One of the annual circle-in-red moments on the NBA schedule — LeBron James visits Madison Square Garden — may come and go without James ever taking the court Tuesday night, when the Los Angeles Lakers are scheduled to make their lone trip to New York this season to face the Knicks.
Both teams were off Monday after playing road games Sunday. The visiting Lakers’ 121-116 comeback win over the Detroit Pistons was overshadowed by the ejection of James, who was tossed from a game for just the second time in his 19-year career after he hit the Pistons’ Isaiah Stewart to set off a wild bench-clearing fracas early in the third quarter.
The Knicks, meanwhile, surrendered 37 points in the fourth quarter as the Chicago Bulls earned a 109-103 win.
James was ejected for the first time since Nov. 28, 2017, after he hit Stewart while the two were jostling for position following a free throw. James was given a flagrant foul 2, and a bloodied Stewart was also whistled for two technical fouls and ejected after he had to be restrained from going after James several times.
Order was restored with no one else ejected in Detroit two days after the 17th anniversary of the NBA’s most infamous brawl, the Pistons-Indiana Pacers fight in the “Malice at the Palace” at the Pistons’ previous home, The Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich.
A flagrant 2 earns a player an automatic fine. A suspension could also be levied to James, who has never been suspended by the NBA.
“Everyone in the league knows LeBron’s not a dirty guy,” Lakers forward Anthony Davis said Sunday night. “In fact, when he knew he hit him, as soon as he did it, he looked back at him like ‘Oh, my bad. I didn’t try to do it.'”
Without James — who was playing his second game since missing eight straight contests due to an abdominal strain — the struggling Lakers authored perhaps their most impressive win of the year. Los Angeles, which entered Sunday with six losses in its prior nine games, trailed by 15 points after three quarters before outscoring the Pistons 37-17 in the final 12 minutes. Russell Westbrook sparked the comeback by scoring 15 of his 26 points in the fourth.
“Hopefully, this will spark a little fire under our you-know-what to get going,” Davis said.
The Knicks, a season removed from a surprising trip to the playoffs, are still searching for a spark of their own. After winning five of its first six games, New York has lost seven of 11, a span in which it hasn’t earned back-to-back victories.
The Knicks appeared primed to win their second straight Sunday, when they overcame a 12-point first-half deficit to carry a 74-72 lead into the fourth quarter. But the Bulls were 10-of-18 from the field in the fourth, including 5-of-8 from 3-point land.
“I like the way we played for three quarters,” Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau said Sunday night. “I didn’t like how we played in the fourth. The fight was there, but we have to take a hard look at what happened in the fourth.”