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'Melo drama

Anthony does irreparable damage to image in brawl

Posted: Sunday December 17, 2006 1:13AM; Updated: Sunday December 17, 2006 2:26AM
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Here we go again.

Two years after the infamous Pistons-Pacers brawl, the NBA once again finds itself trying to contain the damage of another ugly on-court incident involving its players.

The Nuggets-Knicks melee Saturday night wasn't nearly as bad as the Malice in the Palace, but it was significant for several reasons. For one, it saw the ejection of all 10 players on the court, quite possibly a first in NBA history. For another, it spilled into the crowd -- not by much, but enough to make David Stern and everybody at league headquarters cringe. Finally, Carmelo Anthony threw a punch. Any time the league's leading scorer commits a violent act on the court, it's an issue.

Look for Stern to act swiftly and severely. Anthony could face a suspension of five to 10 games. J.R. Smith and Nate Robinson have to get at least three to five games for taking their wrestling match into the first row of seats. The other combatants could be sitting for one or two games as well.

With Allen Iverson awaiting a trade, the NBA now faces the prospect of its two leading scorers being out for an extended period because of silly and unprofessional behavior. This will not help Stern's campaign to clean up the league's image. But, hey, how about that zero tolerance policy?

As for the brawl itself, there is enough blame to go around. New York guard Mardy Collins went over the line with his flagrant foul on Smith. At that point in the game there was simply no reason to do it. After the game Knicks president/coach Isiah Thomas basically admitted that Collins, who committed a similar flagrant foul at the end of Friday night's 112-96 loss to the Pacers, was simply frustrated by watching the Nuggets throw down alley-oop dunks all night.

Gee, that makes it right.

At the same time, Smith overreacted by going after Collins instead of letting the referees handle it. Smith and Robinson then escalated the ugliness by going after each other and spilling into the crowd. Ever since the Derek Harper-JoJo English melee during the Knicks-Bulls playoff game in 1994, the NBA has rightfully taken an especially harsh stance against any melee that threatens spectators.

Thomas also tried to defend his team's actions after the game by pointing out that Denver coach George Karl had Anthony and fellow starters Marcus Camby and Andre Miller on the court with 1:30 left in a 19-point blowout. But clearly that is no excuse. If Karl wants to be a boor and rub it in - and risk injury to one of his stars in the process -- it's his prerogative. It's Thomas' job to do something about it by getting his team better prepared to play.

In the end, Anthony will be the one hurt the most by Saturday's bad scene. The fourth-year forward was just starting to repair an image that had been somewhat tarnished by an earlier pot bust in his NBA career (he claimed it belonged to a friend) as well as an appearance he had made in a drug dealer's video. He not only was leading the league in scoring this season, but he had earned praise from Karl and Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski for his leadership and overall play.

Now he faces the likelihood of a long suspension -- and becoming known by countless sports fans across America as the guy who threw the punch in the NBA's latest embarrassing scene.