LOS ANGELES – So now what?
Can it get any uglier?
What’s next from Dillon Brooks, the Memphis Grizzlies forward, after delivering a groin shot to LeBron James in Game 3 of the first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers?
Brooks was ejected from the game after the flagrant 2 foul, James was left writhing on the court 17 seconds into the third quarter and inquiring minds wanted to know what James thought.
“So do we have any more basketball questions?” the woman moderating the Lakers’ postgame news conference asked at one point as reporters peppered James.
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Ah, basketball. Non-Brooks basketball. It’s worth the following paragraph.
The Lakers won Game 3, 111-101. Will take a 2-1 series lead into Game 4 Monday at Crypto.com Arena. Now, back to Brooks.
The drama started with Brooks trash talking James in Game 2. Then afterward calling James “old.” Followed by the open backhand that struck James’ groin as James dribbled the upcourt early in the third quarter.
Brooks, who left after the game without talking to reporters, appears determined to disrupt James. Even if it requires low blows.
“I’ve had this throughout my career with certain individuals,” James told reporters sanguinely. “It’s easy. It’s literally easy if you want to …”
Breaking into a smile, James stopped himself from going any further.
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No further discipline for Dillon Brooks
Brooks was suspended for one game in early February after striking Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell in the groin.
Despite being a repeat offender, Brooks will not face additional penalties for his hit on James, a person with direct knowledge of the league’s decision told USA TODAY Sports. The person requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the situation.
When asked if he thought Brooks should be suspended, James said: “I mean, I’m not part of the committee. So if he’s in the lineup, if out of the lineup, we’ve got to prepare no matter what. So I look forward to the challenges that Monday will bring.”
Lucky for Brooks, the issue of discipline will not be up to Lakers’ fans, who were booing him loudly – during shootaround! The jeers continued until he was ejected. (Not a rare sight, mind you. He’s been ejected six times since his NBA career began in 2017, according to spotrac.com.)
Pregame encounter between LeBron James, Dillon Brooks
Brooks is a seasoned agitator. Or, in the words of Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors, an “idiot.” Or in the words of Russell Westbrook of the Los Angeles Clippers, “trash.” Brooks would likely relish harsh words from James too.
Consider the trash talk in Game 2 followed by comments about James’ being “old.”
The full remarks when asked about an on-court verbal exchange with James, “I don’t care, he’s old. I poke bears. I don’t respect no one until they come and give me 40 (points). I pride myself on what I do on defense and taking any challenge on the board.”
Of course, James refused to take the bait.
What fewer may have seen was the pregame encounter Saturday night. James approached Brooks, who initially smiled. But that smile quickly disappeared as James continued talk.
Sternly, it appeared.
No microphones picked up the exchange that ended only after James walked away. But James looked pleased that what appeared to be a tense moment was caught on video and replayed on ESPN.
“It’s very, very public,” he said. “I like it that way.”
Restraint is the operative word for LeBron James
OK, so among reporters, James has limited his talk about Brooks. But perhaps Brooks’ disrespect fueled the Lakers when they outscored the Grizzlies 35-9 in the first quarter. Perhaps among his teammates James made clear his disdain for Brooks?
Nope, said Lakers coach Darvin Ham.
“He’s a consummate professional,” Ham said. “He doesn’t get caught up in a war or words. He goes out and speaks with his actions, speaks with his play.”
In fact, at times James seemed to go out of his way to avoid one-on-one situations with Brooks Saturday night. He finished with 25 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
“At the end of the day, my focus is to my teammates and us trying to figure out a way we can beat the Memphis Grizzlies,” James said, “not how I can beat an individual on their team. If anybody know me, they should know that’s what I always been about. And, you know, that’s all that matters.”
Contributing: Jeff Zillgitt