Brawl lingers, but playoffs await

There's a lingering brawl fallout that could ruin the season for the Pacers and Pistons, but come playoff time I expect one (or both) teams in the East finals.

Updated: January 28, 2005, 12:51 AM ET
By George Karl | ESPN Insider
Editor's note: Before becoming coach of the Denver Nuggets, George Karl wrote a weekly column on the NBA for This is his final installment.

The NBA brawl – the infamous Malice at the Palace at Auburn Hills – conveyed a powerful message felt by everyone in the NBA. But the internal message the Pacers and Pistons have to live with is even more powerful and lasting.

The Pacers and Pistons met Thursday night at Indianapolis' Conseco Fieldhouse. It's just their second game since the Nov. 19 brawl involving these two teams and fans at Detroit's home arena.

The timing was dramatic, because Pacers guard Stephen Jackson returned from his 30-day brawl suspension Wednesday night, scoring 17 points in a loss to the Celtics.

On Thursday, Jackson scored 11 points in the Pacers' 88-76 loss to Detroit, their second loss to the Pistons since beating them Nov. 19. Both losses came on the Pacers' home floor.

Indiana and Detroit are still struggling with the fallout from the brawl. The Pacers (20-21) have been hovering close to .500 as they weather their brawl suspensions: Jackson (30 games), Jermaine O'Neal (25 games shortened to 15 games) and Ron Artest (entire season and postseason).

The Pistons (25-18) had no long suspensions but lost four straight games recently, causing coach Larry Brown to publicly question his team's work ethic and Ben Wallace to offer a public retort.

Inconsistency result of brawl
What we're seeing, I believe, is the subconscious aftereffects of the brawl.

The impact on the psyches of the people involved is even more powerful than what we've seen over and over on videotape. It takes time for that to work itself out. Because of that, two strong teams haven't reached their level of competence.