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Lakers, 76ers beware: Blaming NBA referees for Game 2 outcomes is a loser’s mentality

In Sports
April 24, 2024

Complaining about officiating is a loser’s mentality. I’m guilty of it, too. But it’s a loser’s mentality. Ask yourself this: Have you ever heard a winning team complain about calls?

It’s natural, and sometimes it’s justified, to grasp for straws when your season is slipping away, and for both the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers, boy is it slipping, but they better be careful, because that mentality could linger throughout the remainder of their first-round series and into what is about to be a precarious offseason.

Let’s start with the Lakers, who took every opportunity to blame the referees for Monday’s 101-99 loss to the defending champion Denver Nuggets, even though they had plenty of chances to put the game away.

“Some tough calls,” Lakers head coach Darvin Ham told reporters. “Some tough non-calls, but you can’t use any of that as an excuse. You have got to go out there and be ready to make plays, whether the whistle gets blown or not. It’s getting real tricky. You go through the season, games being officiated one way, and then you get to the playoffs, and I guess it’s left up to the interpretation of the three [officials].”

Hmm, where have we heard this before? Oh, that’s right, after a late-February loss to the Phoenix Suns, when Ham said, “I’m not one to use referees as an excuse, but it’s becoming increasingly tough because of the inconsistency. I’m seeing our guys get the same contact on them as we’re supposedly committing. And the whistle is not being blown.” Sounds an awful lot like … he’s one to use the referees as an excuse?

His players were a little more to the point, complaining about a third-quarter foul call against Denver’s Michael Porter Jr., which was overturned on a challenge. Even though replay showed Porter’s arm make contact with Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell‘s face, officials called the contact “incidental” upon review.

Russell took to a public forum.

And LeBron James took to the podium.

“D-Lo clearly gets hit in the face on the drive,” he told reporters. “What the f*** do we have a replay center for if it’s going to go … it doesn’t make sense to me. It makes no sense to me. It bothers me.”

I get it. The call should not have been overturned. But what are we doing here? We’re going to cherry-pick plays from the third quarter? James also took issue with back-to-back plays late in the fourth — one whistle blown against him and another not called for him, both of which seemed … close — but, again, how many possessions can we comb over to come up with calls (or non-calls) that benefited the Lakers?

This happens. Every day the NBA releases its last two-minute reports, and every day there are calls that go in favor and against teams. It is basketball. Generally, it evens out. In the Lakers’ case, they attempted more free throws during the regular season than any team but the Orlando Magic despite ranking 25th in paint touches and 27th in drives to the basket. The Lakers are the league’s most famous team, and James is its most famous player. If anything, the knock against the NBA is that officiating too often favors both.

DENVER, COLORADO - APRIL 22: Head coach Darvin Ham of the Los Angeles Lakers disputes a call while playing the Denver Nuggets in the fourth quarter during game two of the Western Conference First Round Playoffs at Ball Arena on April 22, 2024 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Lakers coach Darvin Ham was not happy about the officiating in Game 2. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

You know what the real difference was? James missed a wide-open 3-pointer that would have given his Lakers a lead with 16 seconds left, and Denver’s Jamal Murray broke the tie on a tough buzzer beater.

I can understand more the frustration of Sixers fans, who watched the New York Knicks steal the series from underneath them. Before Josh Hart swiped the ball, before Isaiah Hartenstein grabbed an offensive rebound and before Donte DiVincenzo drilled the go-ahead 3-pointer with 13 seconds left, Knicks guard Jalen Brunson grabbed the jersey of 76ers counterpart Tyrese Maxey, and Philadelphia head coach Nick Nurse called for a timeout in the brief moment Maxey gained possession of the ball. Neither was called. (The league’s last two-minute report released Tuesday afternoon concluded that Brunson should have been called for a foul and Nurse awarded a timeout during the inbounds play.)

“Everybody on the floor was trying to call a timeout, myself included … but they didn’t give it to us,” said Joel Embiid. “But forget about the timeout, there’s a bunch of fouls. Like I said, that’s f***ing unacceptable.”

At least Embiid and Nurse are on the same page this time. Two years ago, when Nurse complained as head coach of the Toronto Raptors during a first-round series against Philadelphia, he thought Embiid got too many calls. To which Embiid responded: “Respectfully, I told him to stop b****ing about calls.

Or we can go back to last season, when Embiid argued against another postseason whistle, “This is the playoffs. If you’re going to make those type of calls, you’ve got to be sure about it. That’s just not OK.”

Exactly. Again, this is basketball. We want the officials to swallow their whistles in these moments. It is why we were so upset about the whistle in the final seconds of UConn’s women’s Final Four loss to Iowa. Let the players decide the game. Besides, as Nurse noted in April 2022, it is not as though Embiid is never the beneficiary of a friendly whistle: “Nobody can guard that guy if they’re gonna let him run you over.”

Instead, according to multiple reports, the Sixers will file an official grievance with the NBA over the officiating against them in the first two games of their series against the Knicks (both losses, by the way).

To voice their displeasure. C’mon, man.

You will recall that Sixers executive Daryl Morey, then of the Rockets, filed an audit of Houston‘s loss to the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of the 2018 Western Conference finals, informing the league of 81 potential infractions. “Referees likely changed the eventual NBA champion,” the memo reportedly said.

“As we told the Rockets,” the NBA responded, via ESPN, “we do not agree with their methodology.”

We should also all disagree with Morey’s approach. Excuses set a dangerous precedent, one his players might follow to defeat. Here’s an idea: Grab the inbounds pass. Grab the rebound on DiVincenzo’s initial miss. Do what the Knicks did: Fight for every inch of a victory. Anything else is just a loser’s mentality.

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