Wednesday, May 03, 2006

In defense of Raja Bell.

The NBA needs to take a few deep breathes.

They need to count to 10, destroy a stress ball or two, rub their earlobes and say "woo-sah," something, anything. They need to take a few steps back and realize exactly what the Raja Bell foul on Kobe was. They need to make sure Raja Bell isn't suspended and that he's in the starting line up for Game 6.

Why? Well, first of all, Raja Bell didn't clothesline Kobe around the neck and then throw him to the ground. Hit hit him in the chest with a forearm and then didn't catch Kobe as he was falling to the ground. There's a difference. A big one. Yea, eventually, Raja's arm found Kobe'e neck. But he didn't hit him there.If he would have clotheslined him around the neck, then sure, suspend him. But thats not what he did, and it wasn't as bad as everyone is making it out to be.

He hit Kobe in the chest with a forearm. He hit him hard in the chest with a forearm. It was intentional, and it was flagrant. But that's all it was. It was dealt with properly at the time (Bell got the gate), and that's it.

I mean, this is the playoffs. The fouls are going to be harder - and they should be. You can't let teams waltz around out there, and when necessary, you foul hard. You aren't "sending a message," but you're letting the other team know that you'r going to be there all night, and if they want to win, they're going to have to do more than just show up. If the NBA isn't going to allow harder fouls in the playoffs, then the playoffs aren't going to be the same. The intensity is tampered with. You can't even have a hint of that, not with the perception that NBA players don't always play hard.

(This is an enirely seperate issue - or maybe not - but the NBA needs to chill with the suspensions, alright? It's the freakin' playoffs. Its basketball, not bocce ball. There's going to be contact, and it's going to be physical. It's a contact sport. Let's all get off our high horses and let 'em play some basketball, contact included.)

There is something to be said for where the NBA has set the bar so far this postseason in terms of handing out suspensions, but that's no reason to suspend Bell. And as for that "bar," you have to look at the circumstances surrounding each instance (and being wrong the first couple of times isn't a good enough reason to be wrong the third or fourth time, either).

Artest didn't deserve to be suspended - if anyone else touched up Manu like that, it wouldn't even have made Sports Center - but since he's Ron Artest, he got a game on the sidelines. Fair or not (fair to me), that's what happened. And Posey's foul was just stupid on his part; you could see it coming a mile away (well, as long as you aren't Kirk Hinrich). It was cheap and not a "basketball move," a saying the league has fallen in love with. And as intentional as it was, Hinrich didn't even fall over! Sure, it was hard, but you get suspended for
not even knocking someone over? What if he would have fallen over?

It's debatable whether or not Bell's foul was a "basketball move." I think it was. It was a hard foul. Was it really all that different from Brenden Haywood wrapping up LeBron? Or how about Luke Walton drilling Tim Thomas out of mid air in this series? Knocking some one out of the air is more of a potential risk for injury than anything Raja Bell did. And not to pile on (well, ok, to pile on), but Reggie Evans sexually violated Chris Kaman and he didn't get suspended. Arguably the worst - nah, easily the worst - transgression of the post season goes unpunished, and you are going to suspend Bell for a hard, playoff level foul?

(I mean, what would you rather have done to you? Your cookies nearly ripped off, or a shot to the chest? Show me someone who wants a shot to the chest and I'll show you the next first round draft pick of the Phoenix Mercury.)

And when it comes down to it, Game 6 is just too important not to have Raja Bell in it. It's the most exciting series of the first round, and Bell's absence in Game 6 would cheapen the Laker's potential clincher. He needs to be there.

Remember your pressure points, Commish. Woo-sah, woo-sah.

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