The Washington Wizards are facing the possibility of starting the regular season without center Brendan Haywood and shooting guard Larry Hughes following a third-quarter melee in the Wizards' 100-95 preseason loss to the Chicago Bulls on Monday night.
Neither player was ejected after the nearly two-minute incident, although both were principal characters when, as Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said, "all heck broke loose." However, both could be fined and suspended after the NBA offices review film of the incident.
With 3 minutes 22 seconds left in the third quarter and the Wizards ahead by 16 points, Bulls forward Luol Deng made a behind-the-back dribble just inside the three-point line to get around Gilbert Arenas. Deng had a clear path to the hoop when Hughes came charging hard from the side.
Bulls point guard Kirk Hinrich tried to cut off Hughes, but Hughes shoved Hinrich into Deng, causing Deng to land awkwardly on his backside. "I did give him a nice push," Hughes said.
Hinrich took exception and approached Hughes, then Haywood pushed Hinrich. Haywood later said: "Somebody pushed me. I think it was him, Antonio Davis." He then pushed Davis with both hands. "It was uncalled for," Davis said.
As Davis motioned toward Haywood, Hughes pushed Davis and shouted at him. Then, Haywood swung at Davis, punching him in the face. Haywood backpedaled for about 15 feet, losing his footing before Davis ran through official Bill Kennedy to wrestle Haywood to the floor.
Davis, who was at that point atop the 7-foot Haywood, threw a punch before players from both teams piled on top of each other. Michael Ruffin grabbed Davis to pull him from Haywood, and Bulls forward Eddy Curry swung at Haywood's midsection.
Davis was ejected and Ruffin, who appeared to be attempting to play peacemaker, also was thrown out of the game.
Ruffin, who started in place of Antawn Jamison (bruised right knee), had a scratch on his nose and questions about why he was ejected.
"I don't know why, I don't think I was trying to do anything," he said. "I was a little surprised."
Haywood and Hughes received technical fouls.
"I don't think I should be suspended," Haywood said. "I was trying to protect my teammate and trying to protect myself. Cooler heads probably should've prevailed, but they didn't. It's over with."
Hughes said: "Tensions got a little high out there. Guys got a little testy. I don't think it was that big a deal."
Bulls Coach Scott Skiles felt that Hughes deserves more than just a technical. "There has to be a suspension or something from that," Skiles said. "He just blatantly shoved a guy in the back, almost taking out Luol Deng. You're talking now about a play that's endangering players."
Before an announced crowd of 12,689, the Bulls outscored the Wizards 42-21 after the melee, dropping the Wizards to 3-4 in the preseason. Hinrich led the Bulls with 32 points and five assists. Jarvis Hayes had 15 points for the Wizards.
Jordan has said throughout training camp that he wants his team to play rougher and get more physical. Arenas went so far as to proclaim that the Wizards should institute a "no-layup rule" this season.
"We've talked about supporting and protecting each other this season," Jordan said. "In the huddle afterward, we said, 'These are the new Wizards.' "
But, in the end, the Wizards may be without several starters when the regular season begins on Nov. 3. They already know they will start the regular season against Memphis without Arenas, who has to serve a one-game suspension for a gun charge.
"I'm concerned," Jordan said. "That will be up to the league. We'll make our calls tomorrow or when we'll have to."