The NBA suspended Artest on Monday for Game 2 of the Kings' first-round playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs.
Stu Jackson, the league's top disciplinarian, said Artest's elbow to Manu Ginobili's head in the series opener was egregious enough to warrant another suspension for the man who missed 73 games and the playoffs last season after one of the most infamous brawls in sports history.
But after their difficult playoff task got exponentially harder, the Kings suggested Artest was punished simply for being Ron Artest, possibly the most notorious player of his generation.
"You know with Ron's questionable past, they're going to look for a way to get him," said Bonzi Wells, who will get many of Artest's defensive assignments. "Whether it's minor or major, they're going to look at it in a different way."
The one-game suspension caught both Artest's teammates and the Spurs completely by surprise, because neither club thought the personal foul was even worthy of postgame comment, much less a suspension nearly 48 hours after the fact.
Artest was at the AT&T Center for practice Monday, but the focal point of Sacramento's midseason turnaround won't be in uniform Tuesday night when the Kings play Game 2 against the defending league champions.
"I talked to Stu Jackson, which was encouraging," Artest said in a brief, apologetic statement after his usual post-practice shooting workout. "There have been a lot of things that have happened in my career which [were] unfair. I support my teammates, and hopefully they'll win the game, and I'll be back Friday [for Game 3]."
The league cited Artest for his foul on Ginobili in the third quarter of the Spurs' 122-88 victory. Ginobili caught Artest's elbow in his jaw while attempting to run through the lane, and the Argentine star fell to the ground as Artest got a personal foul.
Though Spurs coach Gregg Popovich jumped off the bench to argue for a flagrant foul, Ginobili got right back up, and the game continued. Afterward, Ginobili said he wasn't injured on the play and didn't consider it particularly serious, while Popovich said he had no problem with Artest's aggressive style of play.
"I didn't even see the play, but it couldn't have been that
bad," said Mike Bibby, who declared himself "amazed" by the
"There was no flagrant foul or technical foul on the play. They
look at things differently for certain people, you could say."
Popovich said the Spurs didn't even contact the NBA about the
play, something many teams -- including the Kings -- will do for any
questionable play, particularly in the playoffs.
Ginobili was shocked when he heard about the suspension after
practice at the Spurs' suburban training complex.
"For us it's good, because he's a great player, but we don't
have much to do with it," Ginobili said. "It didn't hurt me. I
said it after the game. But the league [watches] everything we
Artest was injured on the game's opening possession when
Ginobili inadvertently elbowed him hard in the face while driving
to the hoop. Artest's feet flew out from under him, and he stayed
down for several moments before jogging around the court in pain
from a cut that required three stitches to close.
Ginobili alluded to the Kings' theory that Artest was being punished partly for his history of misbehavior and hard-nosed play, which also included aggressive shots to Tim Duncan and Tony Parker in Game 1.
Popovich wouldn't speculate on such ideas, instead finding a way
to worry about how the absence of the Kings' emotional leader and
defensive star actually could hurt the Spurs.
"Sometimes it can be your worst nightmare when a good player is
out on another team, because everybody else can pick up their
games," Popovich said. "We're not going to change a whole lot.
I'm more concerned about the mental part of the deal for us."
Artest mostly guarded Ginobili in Game 1 and scored 16 points on
7-of-21 shooting. The Spurs routed Sacramento with a 41-point
second quarter, taking a quick 30-point lead and turning the entire
second half into garbage time.
Kevin Martin will move into the Kings' starting lineup at guard, with Wells moving to small forward. Martin probably will get the unpleasant task of guarding Parker, who burned the Kings for 25
points in three quarters.
Artest's defense made little difference while the Spurs scored
73 points in the first half of Game 1, making 68 percent of their
shots and cruising to a 34-point lead. And perhaps his absence will
inspire the passion that was missing in his teammates while San
Antonio won Game 1 -- or perhaps the Kings are headed for an 0-2
deficit heading home.
"I think the Spurs are going to play the same no matter who's
out there," Kings coach Rick Adelman said. "When I looked at the
tape, I thought it's possible they'll send a message and [upgrade]
it to a flagrant foul, but I had no idea they would suspend him."