Los Angeles There's rarely a dull moment with Shaq, Kobe & Crew, who have a knack for creating excitement when the regular-season grind grows tedious.
Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, now best buddies, feuded last season. Then there was Shaq miffed at coach Phil Jackson for a time, Jackson taking some subtle potshots at O'Neal, then O'Neal taking a roundhouse shot at then-Chicago Bulls center Brad Miller about 11Â¼2 months ago.
Just when O'Neal was back from his suspension and the two-time NBA champions were looking serene and formidable again, Bryant stirred things up by throwing a punch at Indiana's Reggie Miller.
It was a weird confrontation Â near center court, after the final buzzer, after the two hadn't even guarded each other or had much contact during Friday night's game.
Their brief bout Â which possibly will result in a suspension and fine for Bryant Â ended with a scrum on the scorers' table near the Pacers' bench, apparently with no serious injuries.
The only two guys who knew what really happened Â Bryant and Reggie Miller Â weren't talking after the Lakers' 96-84 win. Bryant did issue a statement through team spokesman John Black, saying, "If somebody comes at me, I'm going to defend myself."
By midday Saturday, there was no word on any action from the NBA.
Bryant, who scored 25 points, and Miller, who had just five on 2-of-10 shooting, were walking toward each other, apparently trash-talking, when Bryant suddenly threw a punch.
It happened so quickly, even the other players and the coaches weren't quite sure what led up to the scuffle.
Indiana coach Isiah Thomas said words apparently were exchanged, and "I saw Kobe take a swing."
"Before I knew it, everyone was trying to grab each other and hold each other and make peace. I don't know what they were saying or what it was about," Thomas said.
Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson said: "It was a hotly contested game, and a very physical game. I imagine there was a lot of talking going on. After the game, it looked like Kobe and Miller lined up and went after each other."
Jackson expects Bryant to be disciplined by the NBA, saying it was "more than likely."
Thomas believes Miller might not be punished.
"I don't know if Reggie should be suspended. I didn't really see him throw a punch, and if he didn't swing, then you're allowed to grab the guy that's swinging at you," Thomas said.
Bryant, normally a model of composure, has had a rough few weeks, beginning with being booed at the All-Star game in Philadelphia, where he played high school ball.
Last week, he scuffled with teammate Samaki Walker, reportedly over some money Walker owed him.
Then came the match with Miller.
Lakers teammate Rick Fox, one of those trying to unpile the Pacers, predictably took Bryant's side.
"He's a grown man, and he did what he felt he had to do," Fox said. "You never condone any kind of action like that on the floor, but I know earlier on in his career, he didn't prepare himself for an altercation against the New York Knicks a few years ago and he found himself off-guard and taking a couple of shots."
The Lakers' Derek Fisher said that maybe Bryant, like O'Neal when he launched a roundhouse right at Brad Miller, simply felt it was time to stand up for himself.
"I think sometimes we get fed up. Shaq's had a situation this year and now so has Kobe,"' Fisher said. "Guys need to defend themselves and do whatever they feel like they need to do to make sure that teams don't feel they can do whatever they want to us."
Before Bryant and Reggie Miller squared off, O'Neal and Brad Miller merely tapped knuckles in a friendly gesture before the opening tipoff.
O'Neal was suspended for three games, Brad Miller for one for their tussle.