Storyline: Officiating Complaints

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The NBA has seen a rise in offensive numbers over the last 10 years, as the league has prioritized its rules to cater to high-scoring games. While the trend has helped offensive output, it has caught the ire of both Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who hopes to see subtle rule changes going forward. “I would like to see a slight reversal in what we’re trying to accomplish as a league,” Kerr said prior to Tuesday’s game against the Spurs. “I think we’ve gone overboard in rewarding offensive players. And what I mean by that is we’ve rewarded offensive players for fooling the officials and attempting to fool the officials.”

The NBA announced Monday that it has denied the Houston Rockets’ protest of their 135-133, double-overtime loss to the San Antonio Spurs last week. At issue was a James Harden breakaway dunk with 7:50 remaining that would have given the Rockets a 104-89 lead. The ball whipped through the net and back over the rim before bouncing off, and the officiating crew mistakenly ruled that Harden missed the dunk and denied Houston coach Mike D’Antoni’s attempt to challenge the call.

The league did announce that it has disciplined all three referees from the game for misapplying the coach’s challenge rule. The NBA also said it will work with its competition committee to develop procedures to ensure the situation does not reoccur. D’Antoni was unhappy the officials were disciplined. “I hate it for them,” he said. “They just made a mistake. We all make mistakes. So I hate it. That’s probably the worst part of it. They’re trying to get it right, and I’m sure they had good intentions.”

The Wizards feel like the opposite isn’t happening. Beal gets hit, but it’s not ruled a foul. Then, the same play happens on the other end and Beal ends up getting whistled for hacking an opposing player. “For me, off-ball is something I wrestle with refs all the time about because you’re supposed to have freedom of movement and half the time, I don’t even have freedom to go touch my teammate on the shoulder if I want to,” Beal said. “So, it’s just those things that are frustrating. Things that are blatant, obvious, should be called and (they’re) not called. But us as a team, I gotta be better at being physical, getting more open, stop complaining and we just gotta be better at screening for each other, me setting screens, and just figure out ways. I just can’t keep accepting it.”

Yahoo Sports reached out to all 30 teams seeking input from coaches on their feelings about the challenge through the first quarter of its inaugural season and the strategies they are using to maximize it during this trial campaign. Most declined to go on record, some of whom have publicly denounced it. One coach threw his endorsement behind the newly implemented tactic: NBA Coaches Association president Rick Carlisle. “I believe that any time you have a mechanism that could potentially correct an error in an NBA game that it’s a positive thing,” the Dallas Mavericks coach told Yahoo Sports. “I believe it protects the integrity of the competition, so I like the rule, and I believe as time goes on more and more people will feel the same way.”

Multiple coaches, however, have yet to see the benefit of the challenge. Asked what improvements he might make, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, “I would tweak it by getting rid of it altogether. “In fact, I would get rid of all replay if it were up to me, because these stoppages in play just aren’t good for the game,” Kerr told Yahoo Sports. (FYI: His five successful challenges so far trail only Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens.) “I’d rather see a good flow in the game. We stop the game for so many reasons, and yet even with replay, we don’t get all the calls right. It’s impossible to get all the calls right in the NBA. It’s such a fast game, and there are so many bang-bang calls that could go either way, so even with replay you see plays on tape all the time that you think you got a raw deal on. In my mind, there should be no replay. “We should just live with the results,” added Kerr.

Rockets to file official protest

The Rockets prepared to file a protest of Tuesday’s loss to the Spurs, a person with knowledge of the team’s plans said, with an argument that will cite the James Harden dunk that did not count as an example of a “misapplication of rules.” It will also cite subsequent errors in officials’ failing to grant a coaches’ challenge, though the primary argument is with points not being awarded following a made basket.

NBA rules require a protest to be filed within 48 hours after a game. Sources said the NBA office has started conducting an investigation that could take longer than the 48-hour window. The Rockets contend that they should either be awarded the win — because they actually outscored the Spurs in regulation — or that the final seven minutes, 50 seconds of the game be replayed at a later date. League sources, however, scoffed at the suggestion that the Rockets would be awarded the victory.

The Rockets have 48 hours after the game in which to file a protest and will wait for more feedback from the NBA before determining how they will proceed. On Tuesday, on the way to losing a 22-point lead, a dunk by James Harden was disallowed after the ball worked its way through the net and around the front of the rim and nearly in again. The subsequent loose ball was ruled to have gone off Harden. The Rockets still led by 13 with 7:50 to play and were up by 16 shortly after before allowing the Spurs to come back and tie the game and eventually win in overtime.

Rockets to protest loss to Spurs?

The Rockets are weighing protesting the game, a person with knowledge of the team’s thinking said, but will wait to hear from the NBA if it rules without a protest. If a made basket was not credited, the Rockets could be given a two-point win in regulation or more likely have the remainder of the game replayed from that point on. In either case, winning a protest is extremely rare. “They said the ball hit James and went back through, so it was goaltending on James,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “So, I said, ‘I challenge that.’ Then, I didn’t get a response. Then, another guy said it wasn’t a goaltending. It went out of bounds on us, so I said, ‘I’ll challenge that.’ I didn’t get an explanation. I got nothing.

Harden’s breakaway dunk with 7:50 remaining would have given the Rockets a 104-89 lead. The ball whipped through the net and back over the rim before bouncing off, and the officiating crew mistakenly ruled that Harden missed the dunk and denied Houston coach Mike D’Antoni’s attempt to challenge the call. “When the play happened, Harden goes in for a dunk, and then the ball appears to us to pop back through the net,” crew chief James Capers told a pool reporter. “When that happens, that is basket interference. To have a successful field goal, it must clear the net. We have since come in here and looked at the play. He dunked it so hard that the net carried it back over the rim a second time, so in fact it did clear the net and should have been a successful field goal.

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the most recent example of teams replaying part of a game happened on March 8, 2008, between the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks. Four months earlier, the Hawks defeated the Heat 117-111 at home in overtime, but the official scorer incorrectly ruled that Miami’s Shaquille O’Neal fouled out with 51.9 seconds left in the game. The league decided to have Miami and Atlanta replay the final 51.9 seconds before the teams’ next scheduled game, and the Hawks ultimately won 114-111.

Before digging into his Thanksgiving meal with family on Thursday, Cleveland Cavaliers head coach John Beilein looked back at the film from Wednesday’s loss against the Orlando Magic. Well, one specific area: The turnovers. Mainly, the seven travel calls against his team. “I have a call in with the league as well and we are going to talk about them,” Beilein said prior to Friday’s matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. “We are going to talk about where the travel is happening. You can see, if you slow it down several times, you can see there’s some. But we didn’t all of a sudden start traveling. It hasn’t been called and it was called. That’s what I think we have to figure out.”

On the one hand, the Lakers’ 14-2 start to the season is the best that any of James’ teams has ever achieved through 16 games, edging the 2016-17 Cleveland Cavaliers’ 13-3 mark. On the other hand, James’ 27 field goal attempts without attempting a single free throw was the most shots he’s ever taken without earning a trip to the line, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information. “It’s frustrating,” said Lakers coach Frank Vogel. “LeBron’s going to the basket all night long. He took nine 3s, but he’s in the paint all night long. … When your guy’s attacking the basket the way he is and getting zero free throw attempts, it’s something that can be frustrating.”

There won’t be outrage at the level of Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals against the Lakers, but there were plenty of angry Kings after a game in which they shot only nine free throws — two through three quarters. Still, the Kings had a chance in the final seconds before the game was “stolen.” “The game came down to one play,” Hield said. “Sometimes in that situation you’ve got to let the game play out. I don’t think it was a foul the other way. So ask (referee) Rodney (Mott) what he think.”

How he fell — or was tripped by James — depends on which locker room you were in, obviously. “I think we know what’s going on,” Barnes said. “But for us, it’s moving past this, getting better, and that’s all I’ll say about that.” Kings coach Luke Walton was much more diplomatic in discussing the final play. “We ran a play, we had a chance, we didn’t make it,” Walton said. “All we try to focus on as a team is what we can control and what we can control is execution, knocking down shots, making the extra pass.

Several minutes earlier, Beverley expressed displeasure with the officiating. He was particularly perturbed about his sixth foul — a call made when he bumped chests with Harden away from the ball and about 30 feet from the basket — and a technical foul he received from the bench with 1:31 remaining. “I got a technical foul because I looked at the ref, I guess, too long, and I guess you can’t look at people in this league now,” Beverley said. “I don’t know. I don’t feel like that’s fair. As a unit, we work too hard — coaches work too hard, players work too hard, staff work too hard — to prepare for each game, and to let a game come down to referees and free throws I don’t think is fair. I think we deserved better, I think fans deserved better, and the people who paid their hard-earned money to watch us play, both teams, I think they deserved better also.”

Mavericks unhappy with officiating

Doncic said he didn’t even know who hit him from behind to cause his laceration but strongly believed a loose-ball foul should have been called. He also complained to referee Mark Lindsay about being hit in the face by James on a pass that resulted in a turnover in the opening minute of overtime, pointing to his face and the back of his head repeatedly during a conversation with the official while James shot the free throws that put the Lakers up nine points with less than a minute left. “I was just asking if I got hit in the head, how’s that not a foul?” said Doncic, who on multiple occasions showed referees scratches on his arms after drives that didn’t result in foul calls, once leading to a stoppage in play for infectious disease control because he was bleeding. “Just should have concentrated on the game and not talked to the refs. That was my fault.”
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January 19, 2020 | 9:19 pm UTC Update
And now here we are, with the Sixers charging headlong toward the playoffs, ready to make good on what head coach Brett Brown has proclaimed is a championship-caliber team. This is new territory for Brown, who was hired as coach seven years ago, just when the team embarked on an epic intentional collapse — dubbed “The Process” — in order to position itself near the head of the worst-goes-first line in the drafting of the best college players. The team set records for losing over four years, and Brown, all along, stood behind this method, often talking about his players as if helping them become men might be his real job. Was Nerlens Noel, a center the team drafted in the early days of the Process, engaged in timeouts? Was he helping teammates off the floor? How was he comporting himself on planes when the team went on the road? At the end of 2014, when Embiid was proving to be high-maintenance as he rehabbed a broken foot, Brown said this: “Joel Embiid has a good heart. At the end of the day, he has a good heart. I don’t throw that sentence out lightly. That needs to be the criteria of everybody in here.”
Meanwhile, Brown’s approach hasn’t changed. He talks up his best players, never criticizing them publicly. And to this point, it’s worked, obviously: Embiid and Simmons, 25 and 23 years old, are All Stars. But they still have a big piece of themselves to overcome, or to unlock. They still need to grow up. Which gives Brown, who started out in Philly with all the room in the world, a dilemma: Suddenly, he has very little time. Sixers owner Josh Harris has a history of listening to the noise of fans and media, plenty of whom think the team’s head coach should stop babying his two stars and force-feed their growth, given that they’re being paid tens of millions a year and we’re so close to that championship.
IT MIGHT SEEM, then, a bit strange that Brett Brown talks a lot about toughness as central to what he’s all about, though it’s not by accident. “Philly tough, Philly strong” was the banner phrase of an early-season team promo featuring the coach’s voice. Talking toughness is a part of getting his team to play in a certain style, but for Brown, it’s also been a natural way of connecting to the city, of molding a certain persona. “You become a spokesperson and mouthpiece of the owners and players,” Brown says. “I am quite calculated on what I want to talk about.” It helps his standing here, too.
But Brown, who’s 58, does come by toughness, in his own way, naturally. He grew up in seaside Maine towns where his father coached basketball. His father’s father made a living taking wealthy businessmen from New York and Boston and Montreal to fish or hunt moose and bear in Northern Maine. And his father — Brett’s great-grandfather — had a job as a railroad switchman, changing the tracks to direct trains either to Quebec or Montreal. “He had to shovel snow off the tracks and remove dead animals, too,” Brown says. “Which could be anything.”
January 19, 2020 | 7:24 pm UTC Update
January 19, 2020 | 6:26 pm UTC Update

Curry already looks ready to play in his post-practice sessions. Judging by his shooting, his broken left hand looks healed. He is no longer wearing the brace. But he hasn’t played since Oct. 30. Saturday was his 40th game missed since the injury. By the All-Star break, Curry will have missed 51 games — the most he’s missed in a season since he missed 40 games in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season when he severely sprained his right ankle.
Last week, I passed along how the Pacers were informed that Domantas Sabonis could not hurt his left knee anymore but would have to play through pain in the meantime. Many were upset with that strategy and wanted to see Sabonis take it easy. We’ve seen other guys play through injuries, and it often leads to something else, sometimes something worse. So I went to Sabonis to get the full story. Many players hate discussing injuries; they’d rather talk about almost anything else. Sabonis, though, opened up and shared what he had learned.
Storyline: Domantas Sabonis Injury
“I’ve been told it’s a bone bruise, so there’s swelling in the bone that all doctors say it can’t get worse unless you get hit in that same spot,” he said. Sabonis was evaluated by the team doctor, and then his representatives also had him checked out by two additional specialists, which is normal. And all three doctors were in agreement: It’s simply a bone bruise and he’s not subject to additional risk by continuing to play on it.
“It’s the same thing if I get hit in my healthy knee,” Sabonis said, pointing to his right knee. “There’s the same chance. It’s not a muscle or anything, so by doing more stuff, you can’t technically get it worse.” Sabonis tried the rest thing. He strategically didn’t do much on it for three days. He didn’t practice before their game in Chicago on Jan. 10 and didn’t play in the game, and the team had the following day off. “Not even ice helps it,” he said. “You can’t really put anything on it. It just has to heal.”
January 19, 2020 | 5:27 pm UTC Update

Jazz extend Royce O'Neale

Utah Jazz forward Royce O’Neale has agreed to a four-year, $36 million contract extension, agents Ty Sullivan and Steven Heumann of CAA Sports told ESPN. O’Neale plans to sign the deal on Sunday, the agents said. Although he could’ve become a restricted free agent this summer, O’Neale and his reps negotiated a long-term deal that keeps him with the franchise that signed him out of Europe in 2017.
For what it’s worth, the Rockets weren’t depressed following the loss — not like Westbrook would ever let it get to that point. “Nobody put their head down in here,” Westbrook said. “If I see it, I’ll go grab it myself and put their head up. It’s no reason to put your head down. We’re all blessed to have an amazing job, to be able to support our families and to go out and play basketball — something that we all love to do. There’s no reason you should ever walk out of here with your head down. I’m obviously disappointed [with] the loss, but we got bigger things in life that’s bigger than a basketball game.”
LaMelo Ball has shut it down for good in Australia with a foot injury, but still should be a top-three pick in June’s draft. According to a source, the Knicks never got a chance to see the 6-foot-7 forward play live Down Under. Brass had plotted the trip for this month. In Ball’s last two games in the Australian National Basketball League in late November, he struck for consecutive triple-doubles. Par for the course. Maybe it won’t matter. There’s no guarantee president Steve Mills or general manager Scott Perry will make the Knicks’ lottery selection in June. To their credit, Mills and Perry have assembled six first-round picks in the next four drafts.
Houston Rockets power forward PJ Tucker has rarely gone the custom-painted route, though he still managed to catch Kevin Durant by surprise with yet another colorful, themed recent pair. Originally designed by one of the founding members of the Taiwanese sneaker message board Kenlu.net, the “Orange Tree” KD IV was a creation on NIKEiD with just a handful of pairs made. Tucker somehow got his hands on a pair nearly eight years later, of course. “We’ve been friends for years and I’ve always loved his sneakers,” Tucker said of Durant. “Our friendship is deeper than anything, but the sneaker aspect is unbelievable.” “Dog I’m about to ban you from wearing my shoes,” Durant joked on Instagram. “They might as well be your joints now.”
January 19, 2020 | 2:27 pm UTC Update
Guard Kemba Walker sat out Saturday night’s game against the Phoenix Suns with a sore left knee. Walker, who was listed as questionable by the Boston Celtics, didn’t participate in shootaround and underwent an MRI on his knee after telling the team Friday night that he had knee soreness, according to Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “Kemba got ahold of our doctors last night and said he had some knee soreness,” Stevens said. “[He] went and got an MRI today, [and it] didn’t show anything structurally wrong, but he’s very sore.”
Storyline: Kemba Walker Injury
January 19, 2020 | 6:54 am UTC Update

Hawks an option for Montrezl Harrell?

If the Clippers don’t believe they can win with a 6’7″ center, especially one hoping for what is believed to be a $20 million-per-season payday, then they risk losing Harrell as a free agent. (Multiple executives believe the Atlanta Hawks could be a summer destination.) Los Angeles would have his rights and the ability to sign-and-trade him to another team, but that’s a move entirely dependent on Harrell’s participation.
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Another possibility for Harkless and considerations, one NBA source suggested, could be Thaddeus Young of the Chicago Bulls, who has $34.6 million of his $40.6 million guaranteed through the 2021-22 season. “They could go after Drummond, but if they’re sending out Zubac, Harkless and filler [like Rodney McGruder], they still have the issue that they’re not going to play Drummond with Harrell,” the Eastern Conference executive said.

Clippers eyeing Aron Baynes?

“They take up the same space on the court. The Clippers simply don’t play them together,” the Eastern Conference executive said. “Montrezl is getting 29 minutes a game, so even if the Clippers added on another center, where would those minutes come? They would need a floor-spacer.” In part, that’s why the Clippers have had their eye on Aron Baynes of the Phoenix Suns (17-24), though they are still looking to make a playoff push, just two games behind the eighth-place Memphis Grizzlies (20-22). Baynes is a strong, experienced defender who can space the floor. Giving up Zubac for Baynes could make sense if the Clippers reinvest in Harrell, but would the Suns have any interest in Zubac’s four-year, $28.5 million deal as a backup for Deandre Ayton?
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