From Comcast SportsNetEL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) -- Metta World Peace harmed much more than his own tattered reputation when he viciously elbowed Oklahoma City's James Harden in the head.The Los Angeles Lakers troublemaker also deprived his team of his services as their starting small forward and defensive stopper for at least six playoff games while he serves his 10th suspension in the past decade.The NBA suspended World Peace for seven games on Tuesday for the inexplicable blow that gave Harden a concussion, keeping the former Ron Artest sidelined for most of the first postseason round.World Peace was ejected from Sunday's game against the Thunder for striking Oklahoma City's top reserve. He claimed the blow was an accidental, overzealous celebration of a dunk, yet even Kobe Bryant and his Lakers teammates weren't defending his inexplicable actions."It's hard to get into a guy's head and know exactly what happened in that situation," Bryant said. "I haven't really spoken to him about it. You've really got to ask him."World Peace will miss the Lakers' season finale on Thursday at Sacramento and the Lakers' next six games. The playoffs open Saturday, and Los Angeles is likely to be the Western Conference's third seed -- and Oklahoma City is locked into the No. 2 seed, meaning the clubs could meet right after World Peace's suspension ends in the second round.He will lose nearly 348,000 in salary if he serves the entire suspension this year. If the Lakers exit the playoffs swiftly, the remainder of the suspension must be served next season.World Peace still hasn't answered media questions about his actions, but he issued a brief statement on his website, promising to follow up with a podcast."I apologize to the Oklahoma City Thunder fans and the OKC organization," World Peace wrote on ronartest.com. "I look foward (sic) to getting back on the floor with my teammates and competing for the Lakers fans."Commissioner David Stern alluded to Artest's lengthy history of on-court altercations and strange behavior in announcing the penalty in a statement. Although Harden appears to be recovering well, he hasn't been cleared to return to the Thunder."The concussion suffered by James Harden demonstrates the danger posed by violent acts of this kind, particularly when they are directed at the head area," Stern said in a statement. "We remain committed to taking necessary measures to protect the safety of NBA players, including the imposition of appropriate penalties for players with a history of on-court altercations."Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said the team accepted the latest suspension for World Peace, who has two years left on his contract with Los Angeles."His most recent lapse in judgment is not to be condoned or accepted," Kupchak said after praising World Peace as largely a model citizen with the Lakers."His actions could have seriously injured another player, and his absence during this suspension will hurt our team as well," Kupchak added. "While we accept the league's decision, we will be supportive of Metta and try to help him be more professional on the court."The suspension is the third career ban of at least seven games for Artest, whose rap sheet might not fit on a basketball card at this point.He got an 86-game suspension in 2004 -- the longest ban for an on-court incident in NBA history -- for jumping into the stands at the Palace of Auburn Hills in the Detroit suburbs to fight fans, and he served a seven-game suspension in 2007 for his no-contest plea on a domestic violence charge.Even before his odd decision to change his name to promote peace last year, he had largely rehabilitated his image during three seasons with the Lakers, winning the NBA's top citizenship award last spring for his charity work in mental-health awareness. Yet World Peace also slammed his forearm into the face of Dallas guard J.J. Barea in the closing minutes of a home playoff loss to the Mavericks last season, earning a one-game postseason suspension.World Peace leveled Harden moments after dunking over Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant in the second quarter of the Lakers' double-overtime victory over the Thunder. While pounding his chest with his right arm, World Peace cocked his elbow and threw it at the back and side of Harden's head.He claimed the elbow was completely accidental in a brief postgame statement, but later acknowledged on Twitter that the blow "looks bad."World Peace didn't speak to the media after the Lakers' practice Tuesday, heading to the locker room at the moment media members entered the gym at the Lakers' training complex. But Bryant acknowledged the obvious problem for the Lakers, who lose a starter and their defensive stopper right before the postseason."It's an unfortunate situation," Bryant said. "James, from what I hear, is OK. As far as Metta goes, he has to focus on himself, and however many games they give him, they give him. He just has to be prepared, and when he comes back, just step right in and be ready to go."Bryant and the Lakers are clearly torn between supporting a teammate and recoiling from World Peace's actions. Harden and Bryant are friends.Almost to a man, the reaction from Oklahoma City was similar.From general manager Sam Presti to coach Scott Brooks to Durant and the players, the Thunder responded that they were more concerned about Harden than the suspension."The league did it. You've got to live with it," Durant said, echoing the sentiments of his coach and GM. "We can move past it now. We're just worried about getting James back in the locker room."Center Kendrick Perkins was the lone exception."Just a play that was uncalled for," he said. "He could have seriously injured somebody, so I do think it was fair. Obviously, they looked at it a few times because it took them a couple days to finally give the suspension."Perkins added that "if he could go back and change the hands of time, he would take that play back.""It's just not good for our league, especially on a national TV game," Perkins said. "That highlight's going to just keep getting played. We don't want to be labeled as that type of league."Brooks wouldn't weigh in on the possibility World Peace could return from suspension for a second-round matchup with the Thunder."I'm not concerned with who we play, as long as we play as hard as we can and play to the best of our abilities," Brooks said. "You can't focus on matchups. You can't focus on individual players."Lakers coach Mike Brown, who professed ignorance of what happened after the game, said he finally viewed a replay and spoke with World Peace about it briefly, but said he didn't attempt an in-depth evaluation of what World Peace was thinking."You're concerned about it," said Brown, an assistant coach with the Indiana Pacers when Artest precipitated that infamous brawl in the stands. "He's a starter for us, and he's important to what we do. ... What was going through his mind, I haven't talked to him. What Metta said is he shouldn't have done it. He's got to keep his cool."Brown said World Peace gave him the same explanation of the elbow as an excited accident."What am I supposed to do, call him a liar?" Brown asked. "He said it was accidental. Now was it accidental or not? I don't know."The Lakers will be further depleted in Thursday's finale without Matt Barnes. The Sacramento native and backup swingman is out with a sprained right ankle, but the team is optimistic he'll be back for the playoffs.With World Peace and Barnes both out, second-year pro Devin Ebanks will get more playing time. Ebanks, who should be fine after dropping a 55-pound weight on his hand Tuesday, played extensive minutes against the Thunder, contributing little offensively but making two big defensive plays in the final minute of the second overtime.Bryant realizes the Lakers will miss World Peace, who entered perhaps the best stretch of his up-and-down season when Bryant sat down for seven games to rest his bruised shin earlier this month. World Peace is averaging 7.7 points and 3.4 rebounds per game while regularly matching up against the opposing team's top scorer."He was playing extremely well," Bryant said. "It happened. When he comes back, he's going to be playing the same way he was playing before he left, if not better. He'll have time off. He'll have a chance to get in even better shape. He might be better when he comes back."
The bubble is beginning to burst for some of the Cinderella teams out of the starting gate around the NHL. The Kings have lost four games in a row and look like the offense is again becoming a problem, the Rangers are back to losing after an extended winning streak, and both the Flyers and Stars have dropped three games in a row after decent starts to their seasons amid low expectations.
There are still a few other teams like the New Jersey Devils, Detroit Red Wings, Winnipeg Jets and Vegas Golden Knights, among others, that are bucking expectations and defying convention thus far. It will take a bit more sustained success before people are truly ready to buy in on them this season. Until that happens they remain a nice little story among the true contenders vying for league dominance.
Anyway, without further ado here are this week’s preseason power rankings:
1. Tampa Bay Lightning (regular season record: 15-2-2, rank last week: 2) – The Bolts are on another five-game winning streak, and continue to serve notice that they were the sorta new, sorta old sheriff in the Eastern Conference. First in the NHL in goals scored, second in goals against and second in power play is some pretty amazing performance.
2. St. Louis Blues (14-5-1, rank last week: 1) – Brayden Schenn and Jordan Schwartz are the top two scorers for a Blues team that’s fought their way to the top of the Central Division. While that’s a great story in St. Louis, it does raise questions about how long they can sustain that over the course of a full hockey season.
3. Winnipeg Jets (11-4-3, rank last week: 5) – Three wins in a row and one regulation loss in the last 10 games for a Jets team that seems to finally be getting it. Mark Schiefele has really become a difference-maker in Winnipeg.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs (13-7-0, rank last week: 6) – The Maple Leafs have won five games in a row without Auston Matthews, which is a pretty impressive feat for such a young group. It does appear like it could also be a season of streaks for a Toronto club that’s shown both extremes already this season.
5. New Jersey Devils (11-4-3, rank last week: 7) – The New Jersey home for wayward Bruins has been pretty good thus far with both Drew Stafford and Jimmy Hayes making the most of their next opportunity after varying degrees of success in Boston… very varying.
6. Los Angeles Kings (11-6-2, rank last week: 3) – The Kings have hit a bit of a wall with four losses in a row where they’ve scored a grand total of six goals while looking much more like last season’s bunch of Kings. Jonathan Quick will keep them in those games now that he’s healthy again, but you’re not going to win if you can’t score.
7. Columbus Blue Jackets (12-7-1, rank last week: 8) – The Blue Jackets have bounced back from four losses in a row to win three games in a row where they needed to grind it out with an on-his-game Sergei Bobrovsky. That’s pretty much how it’s going to go for Columbus.
8. Pittsburgh Penguins (11-7-3, rank last week: 4) – Phil Kessel is leading the Penguins in scoring and Sidney Crosby has been merely okay offensively (six goals in 21 games) with a minus-12 on the season. Has the whole world of the Penguins turned upside down or what?
9. Vegas Golden Knights (11-6-1, rank last week: 9) – The long goaltending nightmare is over for Vegas as it appears that Malcolm Subban is approaching a return to the lineup. Credit to the Golden Knights for holding things together while the injuries played out, and continuing to defy the odds of what they could do this season.
10. Nashville Predators (10-6-2, rank last week: 10) – The Predators are 5-1-1 in Music City and once again making that a tough place to play for opponents. Certainly the sight of PK Subban in a cowboy hat during pregame warm-ups is sign that the Predators players are fully buying into what’s going on in Nashville, and that makes them a very formidable opponent.
11. New York Islanders (10-6-2, rank last week: 11) – The Isles have won a couple of games in a row and appear to have hit their stride while slowly moving up the Metro Division ranks. That they’ve done with so-so seasons for Jordan Eberle and Andrew Ladd certainly says plenty about other guys stepping up.
12. Ottawa Senators (8-4-5, rank last week: 13) – Nobody has played fewer games in the NHL than the Senators, and they are just outside a playoff spot after adding Matt Duchene to their lineup. I’d say things are looking pretty good for Ottawa and where they’re set up at this point in the season.
13. San Jose Sharks (10-7-0, rank last week: 20) – The Sharks are the best defensive team in the NHL, and have the second-best penalty kill in the league this season. That’s certainly a change from the past for the Sharks, but they remain, as ever, in the hunt for the playoffs.
14. Detroit Red Wings (10-8-2, rank last week: 19) – It’s less than a week before Thanksgiving and the Red Wings are in a playoff spot. It’s a big question if they can sustain what they’ve built up this far and they do have three or four games on much of their Atlantic Division competition, but they are in a better spot than anybody could have imagined at this point.
15. Minnesota Wild (9-7-2, rank last week: 26) – The Wild have won four games in a row as Devan Dubnyk is starting to get his stuff together, and are once again in the mix in the Central Division as they seemingly always have been over the recent past.
16. Chicago Blackhawks (9-8-2, rank last week: 24) – The Blackhawks have been jolted back to life by rookie Alex DeBrincat pumping up the offense to support the longtime veteran core. They’ve won two of their last three games and scored 15 goals in those three games as well.
17. Calgary Flames (10-8-0, rank last week: 12) – The Flames have won five of their last seven games, but also gave up eight goals to the Red Wings in their last loss. Jaromir Jagr has been pretty okay since getting healthy for the Flames, so the legend keeps on growing.
18. Washington Capitals (10-9-1, rank last week: 18) – The Capitals are 24th in the NHL in goals against and Braden Holtby has been pretty ordinary for the Capitals this season. It sure feels like they’ve lost a little something defensively this season, which doesn’t bode well for their Cup chances.
19. Vancouver Canucks (9-8-2, rank last week: 15) – All three of their leading scorers are young, talented forwards, so at least the Canucks have that going for them…which is nice. But the Sedins have five goals and a combined 15 points in 38 games, and it appears the end may be nearing for the Swedish twins.
20. Colorado Avalanche (9-7-1, rank last week: 21) – It feels like Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon have both played much better since the Matt Duchene train left the station. Maybe that’s a coincidence, but it doesn’t feel like it for whatever reason.
21. Philadelphia Flyers (8-6-0, rank last week: 14) – The Flyers have scored a grand total of one goal in their last three games, which is also a three-game losing streak for the Broad Street Bullies. Who would have guessed that offense would be a major issue for this group?
22. Anaheim Ducks (8-7-3, rank last week: 17) – The Ducks have points in four of their last five games, and finally seem to be pulling things together a month into the season. This isn’t the same team that was a Western Conference powerhouse a couple of years ago, but they can still be a heavy, formidable foe on any given night.
23. New York Rangers (9-9-2, rank last week: 16) – The bad news for the Rangers is that the six-game winning streak is in the rearview mirror. The good news is that Rick Nash seems to have found his game, and is producing offense for a Blueshirts group that needs everything they can get.
24. Boston Bruins (7-7-4, rank last week: 23) – The Bruins, through injuries and major inexperience, are slowly sliding down into oblivion before Thanksgiving, and are going to need to find some things to hang their hat on if they want to survive the month of November.
25. Dallas Stars (9-9-1, rank last week: 22) – The Stars are 2-4-1 in the month of November, and have been outscored 24-7 in the losses this month. It really feels like there is a compete problem in Big ‘D’ where they shouldn’t be getting dominated like that from a talent standpoint.
26. Montreal Canadiens (8-10-2, rank last week: 25) – While it’s good that Charlie Lindgren has stepped up and been pretty good for the Habs in an emergency-type situation, it’s an absolute disaster that Carey Price is banged up again for Montreal. This is a season where everything that could go wrong pretty much has for the Habs.
27. Carolina Hurricanes (7-6-4, rank last week: 27) – The Hurricanes have taken seven of their last 10 points, but it’s not really making much of a dent in the Metro Division. The one truly encouraging sign has been some very good goaltending from Scott Darling and Cam Ward.
28. Edmonton Oilers (7-10-2, rank last week: 28) – The Oilers seemed like they might be pulling out of their early-season funk, but then lost four of their last five games to stick close to the Pacific Division basement. It’s been a rough start for Cam Talbot, and that’s been one of the big differences for the Oil.
29. Florida Panthers (7-9-2, rank last week: 30) – You have to wonder where the Panthers would be if they hadn’t brought in a player like Evgenii Dadonov, who has been one of the best offensive players on the team this year. That’s a nice win for Florida’s management group to get him back in the fold this season.
30. Buffalo Sabres (5-10-4, rank last week: 29) – So many sticks to break for Jack Eichel, so little time.
31. Arizona Coyotes (3-15-3, rank last week: 31) – The Coyotes have gone 3-5-2 in their last 10 games. That is considered a major roll for them, so they have to be getting pretty excited out in the desert.
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When you’re an NBA rookie or early on in your career, there’s so much to learn, especially when it comes to playing defense.
Despite having at least two players with a year or less experience in the starting lineup and at least three or four other rookies who see regular action, Boston’s top-ranked defense has been able to do the seemingly impossible – defend without fouling a lot.
Boston comes into tonight’s game against Atlanta averaging 19.8 fouls committed per game which is the ninth-lowest total in the league.
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Celtics guard Kyrie Irving has some ideas as to how the team has been able to defend without fouling a ton.
“Our length, being able to communicate on the fly, having a system that’s predicated on shrinking the floor, just being very active,” Irving said. “Obviously, we’re going to foul. But the times we don’t foul, we limit teams to some tough shots, some tough two’s or some tough contested threes; I feel we put ourselves in great position. And then when you have guards down there rebounding as well as bigs down there boxing out and staying active it makes all our jobs easier, all five connected out there. We understand the importance of valuing each possession.”
The qualities that Irving talks about make sense when you’re talking about the qualities of an elite team defensively.
But for the Celtics to have so much youth tossed into such prominent roles, it is unusual to see everything seemingly come together so quickly.
“They utilize their length appropriately,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “They’re both long for their positions; that helps. So, you’re not playing Jaylen at the 3 (small forward) as much, and Jayson (Tatum) at the four (power forward) as much. You’re playing them at the two (shooting guard) and three (small forward) a lot. So, they can use that length rather than try and have to battle.”
Irving points out there’s added incentive to play at a high level defensively without fouling.
“If you don’t, you’ll be on the bench,” Irving said. “Brad has made that very clear. If the effort isn’t being put out there, and you’re not paying attention and you’re not preparing the way all of us should be preparing, that goes from the head coach all the way down to the 15th guy, if you’re not preparing the way you should and not perfecting your craft outside the game and that’s being very diligent, understanding what we’re trying to do in strategy, understanding our system, why it works, and why we’re doing it, then why the hell would you expect to play? So, he made it very simple. All the guys understand that. We’re a young team, but what we’re trying to accomplish will take a lot of energy and effort and focus. They understand that at a very young point in the season.”