LeBron James’ one-game suspension for clocking Isaiah Stewart doesn’t seem in line with J.R. Smith precedent

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The NBA announced on Monday that LeBron James has been suspended one game without pay — which amounts to a $284K forfeiture — for “recklessly hitting [Isaiah] Stewart in the face, and initiating an on-court altercation.”

It was also announced that Stewart, who was left badly bloodied after his face took the business end of James’ closed fist, has been suspended two games without pay for “escalating an on-court altercation by repeatedly and aggressively pursuing [LeBron James] in an unsportsmanlike manner.” 

Though understandable after the shot he took, Stewart lost his mind. This was not a typical “hold me back” NBA fight. Stewart was after LeBron like a madman. The scene was ugly and easily could’ve gotten much uglier. Stewart deserves the two-game suspension he got. You just can’t do this on an NBA court:

LeBron, on the other hand, appears to have gotten off lightly with his one-game suspension as there is precedent for a harsher penalty in this case. Back in 2015, J.R. Smith was suspended two playoff games for a nearly identical hit on Jae Crowder, which you can see below. 

Now here’s the LeBron footage:

And a slightly different angle:

You can clearly see LeBron looking back at Stewart as he throws his fist. He knew what he was doing. Smith took a longer swipe, but it’s the same thing. Watch the clips again. Smith was peeved about Crowder’s initial contact as they tussled for rebounding position, just as LeBron was visibly irritated with Stewart’s contact, for which Stewart was assessed a loose-ball foul. 

Smith took a swing backward. LeBron took a swing backward. 

Smith hit crowder in the face. LeBron hit Stewart in the face. 

But Smith got two games. Two playoff games, in fact, while LeBron will miss just one regular-season game and save the Lakers over $500K in luxury tax money in the process. I’m not yelling conspiracy here. I’m just presenting the evidence. Two playoff games and one regular-season game are not even in the same ballpark of punishments, but Smith’s act and LeBron’s act are in similar ballparks. Truth be told, they’re about as close to mirror actions as two separate incidents could look, but they were ruled on very differently.

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NBA Star Power Index: LeBron James raining 3-pointers; LaMelo Ball has to have Warriors kicking themselves

Welcome back to NBA Star Power Index: A weekly gauge of the players who are most controlling the buzz around the league. Inclusion on this list isn’t necessarily a good thing. It simply means you’re capturing the NBA world’s attention. This is also not a ranking. The players listed are in no particular order as it pertains to the buzz they’re generating. This column will run every week throughout the regular season. 

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The Lakers have gotten out to a sluggish 2-2 start (they survived in OT at San Antonio on Tuesday without LeBron James, who was out with a sore leg), but the good news is LeBron James continues to look like a player capable of carrying a team. James’ 3-point shot is particularly splashy (as is his fadeaway). 

Through three games, James is taking just under 10 3-pointers per game and hitting 48 percent of them. If you’re interested in how the Lakers have played with using Russell Westbrook as a pick-and-roll partner with LeBron, our Sam Quinn provided a good breakdown here. 

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Do yourself a favor and clear your schedule for as many Hornets games as you can. They are an Indy car, and LaMelo Ball is in the driver’s seat with the throttle pegged. Charlotte has jumped out to a 3-1 start with Ball shooting 50 percent from 3 on eight attempts a night; he’s already made seven 3s in two separate games. 

That kind of shooting was simply not expected from Ball, and certainly not this early. His comfort and confidence bely his experience. When he’s making 3s off the dribble and the catch on top of making passes like this one below, he’s an All-Star level player already. 

People are going to play the premature card, but the Golden State Warriors, though they’re obviously going to say all the right things about James Wiseman, have to be quietly kicking themselves for not grabbing Ball when he was sitting right there for them at No. 2 in the 2020 draft. 

What Ball could be doing in that fast-paced, instinctive, pass-oriented Warriors system, with that kind of shooting and talent around him, is limitless. And this is to say nothing of the clear franchise-player talent and star power he possesses. Through that lens, to go from the Stephen Curry era right into the LaMelo Ball era would be like hitting the Powerball twice, and the Warriors had the ticket. 

It’s not to say Wiseman won’t end up being good, but this feels, at best, a lot like the Suns taking Deandre Ayton over Luka Doncic and Trae Young. Ayton is going to be good; he already is. But he is never going to be Doncic or Young. We don’t need any more time to be able to say that with extreme confidence. 

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Speaking of the Warriors, they’ve gotten out to a 4-0 start, and they’ve done it despite Stephen Curry having a relatively cold-shooting start to his season. His 45-point game against the Clippers is propping up

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