LOS ANGELES -- Houston Rockets star Chris Paul and Los Angeles Lakers players Rajon Rondo and Brandon Ingram all face suspensions as soon as Sunday following an on-court fight Saturday night that marred LeBron James' first home game as a Laker.
Paul and Rondo each threw and landed punches at each other. Ingram shoved James Harden and also threw a punch. After the players left the floor, a member of Rondo's family got into a confrontation with Paul's wife, Jada, multiple sources told ESPN.
Play was stopped for nearly 10 minutes while the referees tried to adjudicate the fracas that started with Ingram fouling and then pushing Harden. The scene exploded when Rondo landed a left-handed punch to Paul's face after the Rockets point guard poked a finger in Rondo's face.
The Rockets claim that Rondo spit in Paul's face, prompting the All-Star point guard and National Basketball Players Association president to retaliate.
"That's unacceptable," Carmelo Anthony said of the alleged spitting by Rondo. "You don't do that to nobody -- in sports, on the street. That's blatant disrespect. You don't do that. That's unacceptable. ... You don't even see that in the streets, man. I don't know what else to say about that."
Harden defended Paul's reaction.
"I mean, Chris had to stand up for himself," Harden said. "It is what it is. I don't care what man, anywhere, anytime, NBA game or in the streets."
Lakers officials watched tape of the scrum and are backing Rondo's contention that he didn't spit on Paul, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. However, Paul and the Rockets are insisting that Rondo did spit. "Lot of history between them," one source connected to both players told ESPN.
NBA executive vice president Kiki VanDeWeghe was at Staples Center on Saturday, and an investigation into the fight is already underway.
The NBA is expected to learn two things when Rondo and the Lakers make their case to the NBA on Sunday, sources told Wojnarowski. Rondo suffered a laceration under his right eye from Paul, which Rondo contends provoked him to throw a punch. Also, Rondo was using a mouthguard, which would presumably complicate the alleged act of spitting.
Paul and Rondo's bad blood dates back as far as tryouts for the 2008 Olympics, when Paul made the USA Basketball team. Rondo and Paul also had several run-ins while guarding each other in the first half Saturday prior to the incident.
The league office could take Rondo's previous suspension for directing an anti-gay slur toward referee Bill Kennedy in 2015 into consideration when determining his punishment, multiple sources told ESPN.
All of the excitement in the crowd surrounding the game turned into stunned amazement as James had to separate his good friend Paul from the rest of the Lakers while Paul tried to throw a punch back.
"I just tried to calm things down, that's all," James said. "Play basketball."
LeBron says scuffle didn't determine outcome
LeBron James reacts to the scuffle between the Lakers and Rockets, saying he said nothing to his team and let Luke Walton do the talking.
Lakers guard Lance Stephenson initially played peacemaker by hugging Ingram and pushing him away from the action after the third-year forward argued in close quarters with referee Jason Phillips. Once Rondo and Paul's altercation occurred, however, Ingram sprinted from half court and threw a punch of his own in the direction of Paul and PJ Tucker that did not land cleanly.
Stephenson, who got Harden called for a technical foul for pushing him earlier in the game after Stephenson buried his head in Harden's shoulder, saw the same type of tactics used by Houston.
"I think they were picking on [Ingram], and that is why I tried to grab him as quickly as possible and tell him, 'Hey, don't fall for the trick,'" Stephenson said. "I guess we fell for it."
After an official review, Paul and Rondo were ejected, while Ingram received a personal foul, plus two technical fouls -- one for the push on Harden, one for the punch -- resulting in his disqualification.
There was 4:13 remaining in the game with Rockets ahead 109-108 when the fight occurred. When play resumed, Houston closed on a 15-7 run to win the game 124-115 and drop the Lakers to 0-2.
JaVale McGee was asked after the game if he had ever seen that side from Ingram, who is typically laid-back.
"No," McGee said. "If you poke the bear, you're bound to get bit."
Lakers coach Luke Walton said that the hard foul by Houston's James Ennis III on Josh Hart with 9:47 remaining in the fourth quarter -- when Ennis brought Hart to the floor by grabbing him in the neck and shoulder area -- could have contributed to the testy atmosphere. The play was upgraded from a personal foul to a flagrant 1, but not a flagrant 2, after an official's review.
"The clothesline three minutes prior, I saw that, and I have zero idea how that's a flagrant 1," Walton said. "The rule is -- he clotheslined our guy, picked him up off his feet and slammed him on his back. It was [deemed] a flagrant 1. That is, to me, if I'm a player or teammate, 'If that's only a flagrant 1, then we can play a little more physical.' I didn't sense anything too crazy besides our guys were a little irritated that that happened and wasn't penalized more."
Lakers guard Lonzo Ball, who has been on a minutes restriction while recovering from left knee surgery, said he would be able to fill in without any limitations should Rondo be suspended.
"I'm 100 [percent]," Ball said. "I'm ready to go."
James, wearing a Los Angeles Dodgers hat as he addressed a crowd of media after the game, already had started to turn the page.
"Listen, we had our chances tonight, and we will take this opportunity tonight to go over things we could did more, did better, be frustrated at certain things we did, look back on things. But when you wake up tomorrow, it's a new day," James said. "It's a new opportunity and you leave things in the past and get on with the future. Tonight, whenever time guys go to bed, when they wake up tomorrow, they got a fresh mind and they can move on."
ESPN's Baxter Holmes contributed to this report.