The NBA no longer has the heated rivalries that led to fisticuffs in the 1980s or even the 1990s.
These days, the most minor of altercations are deemed scuffles, even if nothing more than words or a shove are exchanged.
That’s why Kings guard Isaiah Thomas made news when he called Celtics guard Jerryd Bayless a “fake tough guy” and said he disliked Bayless after they became tangled and were assessed technical fouls during Boston’s victory on Feb. 7.
Will the tension resume when the Kings host the Celtics tonight? Not exactly.
Thomas said he has no extra incentive against Bayless, a former AAU teammate and a rival when Thomas was at Washington and Bayless played for Arizona. Both schools are members of the Pacific-12 Conference.
“I like going up against anybody,” Thomas said. “I like the guy now; he’s a great guy. We actually talked, so we’re good. There was stuff I didn’t like that he was doing, but we’re men about it, and we’re good now.”
Thomas said there was nothing left to say about the Boston run-in.
“It’s just the way it goes sometimes,” Thomas said. “I can’t comment on that too much; it’s just how it is.”
Kings coach Michael Malone said he has no problem with his team playing with an edge against Boston.
In that game two weeks ago, Celtics center Jared Sullinger scored a career-high 31 points and had 16 rebounds. He was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week.
“I love it because I don’t like anybody,” Malone joked. “But we have to play with a chip on our shoulder. That’s competition. When the game is over it’s, ‘Hey, job well done.’ ”
Malone grew up watching his father, Brendan, coach in the NBA in the 1980s. Brendan Malone was on Chuck Daly’s staff in Detroit when the “Bad Boy” Pistons roughed up opponents, notably a young Michael Jordan, en route to back-to-back championships (1989-90).
The dislike between opponents lingered in those days, but it’s not the same now.
“Now everybody plays AAU ball together,” Malone said. “They all know each other, and it’s like a buddy-buddy thing. But when that jump ball goes off, there are no friends on the other sideline.”
Thomas doesn’t need a reason to play with extra fire. He does that every night – as if every opponent has disrespected him.
“Isaiah – I don’t care who he’s playing against – he’s always going to have a chip on his shoulder,” Malone said. “That’s one of the things I respect about him.”
The Kings will have center DeMarcus Cousins back in the lineup tonight. He missed Wednesday’s loss to the Warriors with a strained left hip flexor.
But they will be without guard Jason Terry and likely without forward Reggie Evans, both acquired from the Brooklyn Nets in Wednesday’s trade for Marcus Thornton.
On Friday evening, Malone told KHTK radio that Terry would not join the team this season and instead would return to his home in Texas to rehabilitate a knee that has limited him to 35 games and a career-low 16.3 minutes per gamein 2013-14. Terry had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in June while still a member of the Celtics.
According to Malone, Terry had not felt right all season with the Nets. The Kings said they would make the news official today.
Most important, Thomas said, is helping to get the Kings back on track. They’ve lost four of five, and the offense has struggled in the losses.
That takes precedence over any past issues with an opponent.
“I’m not worried about none of them over there,” Thomas said. “I’m just worried about trying to do what I can to help this team get wins.”