Sunday night’s contest between the Detroit Pistons and host Los Angeles Lakers is decidedly the undercard.
The real attraction is that LeBron James and Isaiah Stewart are back on the same floor just seven days after a wild fracas in Detroit led to ejections and suspensions for both players.
James drew a one-game suspension for striking Stewart in the face with his left fist. Stewart received a two-game suspension after going bonkers and escalating the situation as he made repeated attempts to get at James as blood flowed out of the ugly gash on his face.
James said earlier this week that the blow was accidental. Stewart, of course, doesn’t buy that and said as much after returning from the suspension and playing in Friday’s 107-96 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
“I watched the film. Me, personally, I didn’t feel like it was an accident,” Stewart told reporters. “But this is my last time addressing it. My main focus right now is on my team and my teammates, getting back to playing basketball. I’m not going to let that define who I am.”
The video of the incident will not soon be forgotten. Stewart had to be restrained by teammates, coaches, referees and security members during the third quarter of Detroit’s 121-116 loss as the blood poured down his face.
The incident happened after the two had jostled for positioning during a free throw. James drew a flagrant foul 2 for his actions but expressed disbelief that he was suspended after the fact.
“I didn’t think it warranted (a suspension),” James said. “I thought it warranted an ejection because of what happened after that. Having me, probably, still in the game and the excitement from the fans and what could possibly happen after that, obviously. But a suspension, I didn’t think it was warranted. But the league made that call.”
As for the actual game, Anthony Davis had 30 points and 10 rebounds and Russell Westbrook contributed 26 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds as Los Angeles beat Detroit for the fourth time in the past six meetings. James had 10 points in 21 minutes.
Jerami Grant scored a season-best 36 points for the Pistons. Stewart had four points in 19 minutes.
The Lakers enter the rematch with five losses in seven games and a frustrated disposition.
Los Angeles blew a 13-point fourth-quarter lead on Friday night before falling 141-137 in triple overtime to the visiting Sacramento Kings. The setback leaves the Lakers with a sagging 10-11 record.
“We’re very frustrated,” Davis said after the loss. “First game after the (five-game) road trip, this is a game we should have won. We had control of it in the fourth and let it get away. We have to be a better home team than we are right now.”
The Pistons are dealing with more issues than the Lakers. The loss to the Clippers was their fifth straight.
Making matters worse is that Detroit trailed 64-40 at halftime and by as many as 29 in the third quarter.
“We don’t have the luxury of being a young team and having trouble scoring to come in and not play desperate to start the game,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “That was the message at halftime. We just weren’t competing at the level you need to compete to be a playoff team like the Clippers. And once we decided to do that, we did.”
Grant led Detroit with 20 points and 10 rebounds. No. 1 overall draft pick Cade Cunningham scored 10 points on 3-of-13 shooting and has made just 25.9 percent of his shots (14 of 54) over the past four contests.