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While Harden rolled in agony on the floor, his teammates confronted World Peace, who appeared ready to fight Ibaka. World Peace then spoke with the officials, appearing to mime an argument that he had simply been celebrating with a chest-pound that missed its target, before they ejected him for a flagrant foul.

“Him getting ejected could have really hurt us,” Bryant said after the Lakers rallied from an 18-point deficit for a double-overtime victory over the Thunder. “In that sense, he’s really going to have to control himself and pay attention in those moments where he doesn’t erupt too much.”

Even opponents are divided in their opinions on the NBA veteran. Oklahoma City big man Kendrick Perkins spoke in defense of World Peace, saying he would never intentionally harm another player, while superstar Kevin Durant was more cautious.

“I couldn’t really get a good look at it,” Durant said. “I’m just happy my teammate is all right. It was a bad play. Hopefully, Ron didn’t do it intentionally or have any malicious intentions on that.”

World Peace’s two sides are difficult to reconcile, even for the player himself. He grew up around violence and gang activity in Queensbridge projects of Queens, New York, but excelled in college before becoming an NBA All-Star and the league’s top defensive player in 2004. He has acknowledged drinking during games early in his career, and he rewarded the Pacers for their patience with his 2004-05 suspension by demanding a trade shortly after he returned.

Yet World Peace appears to have his life on track in Los Angeles, where he signed as a free agent in 2009. Six months after he famously thanked his psychiatrist when he scored 20 points in the Lakers’ victory over Boston in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA finals, Artest even raffled off his championship ring, raising $65,000 for mental health causes.

“There’s been ups and downs, a real roller-coaster ride, but this is one of the times you look back and say it was all worth it,” Artest said last year after winning the Kennedy award as the NBA’s best citizen. “Everything I’ve been through has made me who I am today.”

An extended suspension for World Peace would harm the Lakers, likely headed to the postseason as the No. 3 seed in search of the franchise’s 17th NBA title. World Peace usually defends their opponents’ top swingman while providing intermittent offense, including 12 points before he was ejected.

Any lengthy absence for Harden could be an even bigger problem for Oklahoma City, which will be seeded ahead of Los Angeles and could meet the Lakers in the second round. The Thunder have designs on a championship run, and the heavily bearded Harden is their most important reserve.

“It was a bad play, there is no way around it,” said Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks, who coached Artest as an assistant during the 2006-07 season in Sacramento. “It was a dangerous play. It’s not a play that should be involved in basketball. I know Ron. Unfortunately, it did happen, but you can’t do that. It’s unacceptable.”