Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Watch the Whistles

Not to sound like a conspiracy theorist or anything, but I am very interested to watch the officiating in tonight's Denver-San Antonio and Golden State-Dallas contests. The former features a team that traditionally gets very favorable calls (many will note that I picked the Spurs purely for that reason) and the latter has Mark Cuban going bonkers in the stands.

Both the Spurs and the Mavs will come out fired up tonight and probably won't need any help from the refs to even these series, but I still expect them to get plenty of aid from the guys with the whistles.

In particular watch for these three things:

- A lof of non-shooting and off-the-ball fouls on Denver and G-State early in quarters. I've discussed this before, but it is worth mentioning again that this is a favorite of NBA officials. I doubt there is explicit pressure from up top to orchestrate the games, but at the very least, most NBA refs tend to respond to home favorites and, shall we say, lend a helping hand. The preferred method is to load up the visiting team with non-shooting fouls, thus putting the favorite in the bonus nice and early. Because the fouls being called are fairly innocuous, it all goes under the radar. Watch for this in the second quarter, especially.

- Baron Davis getting in foul trouble. Davis is a monster defensively when he's healthy and engaged, and he's both right now. However, his effectiveness can be curbed by the officiating. He loves to attack off the dribble and use his upper body strength in the lane, and as with all penatrating players, he runs the risk of picking up a few charging fouls (especially, as Jon Barry correctly points out, the NBA is turning into college basketball with all of these ridiculous charging calls). The even bigger risk is that the refs will start whistling Davis for reaching fouls. About a month ago the Warriors hosted the Suns on a nationally televised game and Davis was absolutely manhandling Steve Nash, just bodying him and reaching and very nearly tackling him. As my Dad would say, if he had done the same things to Nash in the parking lot, he'd be serving three-to-five years. But the refs let it go. And for the most part, they let it go on Sunday night. All it will take is a decision not to allow these types of plays to get Davis in foul trouble and completely change the tenor of the game. Not only will it potentially put him on the bench, it will make him less aggressive and restrict the Warriors' ability to get out in transition. I am relatively certain that we will see Davis go to the bench at some point tonight with a frustrated look on his face as Don Nelson complains about the officiating. Book it.

- Another thing you can book is Nene getting in foul trouble early. As I watched Nene dominate the paint on Sunday, I kept thinking that something would go terribly wrong. Because for this guy, it always does. Sure enough, he went down with a sprained ankle and had to go to the locker room. But he came back! So when the Chuckster raved about him after the game, called him a "beast," and said that he was going to be an ongoing problem for the Spurs, my mind searched for a new way for Nene to self-destruct. The answer is quite simple: foul trouble. He is looking so aggressive right now, working the glass so hard, and generally making things so problematic for Duncan, that I am 100% certain he will be neutralized with foul trouble. He's always a tad bit out of control anyway and since he's guarding Duncan, it won't be difficult at all for the refs to tag him with one debatable "hand checking" foul after another. Again, I am dead certain that Nene will be in foul trouble early in this game and greatly limited as an interior factor. Get ready for Eduardo Najera and a 1-1 series.

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