Lakers defend Jarred Vanderbilt for

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Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff WriterJan 30, 2024, 12:43 AM ET

CloseLakers and NBA reporter for ESPN.
Covered the Lakers and NBA for ESPNLosAngeles.com from 2009-14, the Cavaliers from 2014-18 for ESPN.com and the NBA for NBA.com from 2005-09.

HOUSTON — After Jarred Vanderbilt was ejected in the first half of Monday’s 135-119 loss to the Houston Rockets for a run-in with Dillon Brooks, several members of the Los Angeles Lakers defended Vanderbilt’s actions against Houston’s agitating forward.

Brooks fouled Vanderbilt on a dunk with 11:03 remaining in the second quarter while Vanderbilt was airborne. Not long after, Brooks jostled Vanderbilt with his arm while he was under the rim as Austin Reaves made a pull-up jump shot with 10:17 to go in the second. Vanderbilt responded by shoving Brooks in the chest with his forearm, drawing a technical foul from referee Eric Dalen.

A moment later, Vanderbilt poked his finger on the side of Brooks’ head and was assessed another tech by crew chief Curtis Blair and ejected from the game. A Lakers player told ESPN that Brooks called Vanderbilt a “p—y” during the exchange.

“He’s going for a wide-open dunk and [Brooks] just pushed him in the back,” Anthony Davis said. “It’s not a safe play. Guys get hurt like that. And you got to know what type of player [Brooks] is. [The referees] kind of let that just keep going on and [Brooks] kind of provoked it. He talks and says whatever he wants to the refs, to players and at the end of the day, we’re men.

“No man is going to talk towards another man the way he was talking to Vando. So, Vando did what he had to do.”

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Vanderbilt left without speaking to reporters.

Brooks said that Vanderbilt escalated the run-in. “I feel like he may feel like I did a dirty play,” Brooks said. “When he feels that way, he likes to bump. It’s basketball. We bump and tussle. I feel like he took it a little too far.”

After Vanderbilt was ejected, with the Lakers trailing 46-36 early in the second quarter, the Rockets took control, pushing their lead to as many as 30 points midway through the third. L.A., trailing by 24 heading into the fourth, tried to make a push with LeBron James staying in the game despite the Lakers’ having to travel to Atlanta for the second night of a back-to-back on Tuesday.

The Lakers were down by 16 with 5:45 remaining when Jae’Sean Tate missed a layup and Brooks came over James’ back on the rebound attempt, striking the Lakers star in the face. After a video review by the officials, Brooks was called for a flagrant foul 1 for the contact. James, who credited Brooks’ competitive fire when asked earlier this season about the lucrative contract Brooks signed in Houston, cut off a reporter’s question about Brooks after the game.

“Next question,” James said.

Lakers coach Darvin Ham said both Brooks’ push on Vanderbilt and hit on James were enough to warrant an ejection on their own, in his estimation.

“Being competitive is one thing,” Ham said. “But … putting players at risk of injury with certain plays — I just watched it again [on video] before I came in here, [Brooks] pushes him in the back, a guy that’s in the air. Airborne, defenseless. Then Bron’s play, Bron goes to the basket and it’s a double move with his arms. One arm trying to deflect the ball and it goes back and then it goes across [James’] face.

“So maybe Dillon Brooks shouldn’t have been in the game, either.”

Davis echoed his coach’s view of both plays.

“I mean, you take a hard foul,” Davis said. “That’s part of basketball, but you are just not going to blatantly push someone in their back when they have no control of their body and they are in the air. And he should have gotten ejected for that. And then you know him and Bron have their [collision] and from what I saw, it was just a blatant hit to LeBron to his face.”

Ham added, “my hat’s off to Vando,” for how he responded by confronting Brooks.

Brooks told reporters that he continues to bring an “alpha dog mentality” to games and has made adjustments to how he controls himself since leaving the Memphis Grizzlies and joining the Rockets.

“Last year, I let it get too far,” Brooks said. “Now, I feel like I have a rein on it. It’s just bringing the energy from knowing that certain things that you do, you can take it too far. And play within the lines.”

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