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Doug Robinson: Who can figure out NBA playoff officiating?

Published: Wednesday, June 10 2009 12:21 a.m. MDT

Charles Barkley says NBA officiating smells.

"I shouldn't say that they stink, but I'm going to say it," he said. "They've been stinking the whole playoffs."

I shouldn't say it either.

NBA officiating stinks.

Three coaches — Houston's Rick Adelman, Portland's Nate McMillan and Boston's Doc Rivers — all were all fined $25,000 by the league earlier in the playoffs for criticizing the officiating. I get it. I feel their pain.

"We've got to have a conversation when the playoffs are over about the officiating," Barkley said. "It's been terrible officiating. They call every little bump foul and they aren't sure what a flagrant (foul) is. The referees have been very inconsistent throughout the playoffs."

Let me digress a moment. I have no stake in this. I'm not a fan. I don't have a favorite team. I watch games haphazardly. The machine has yet to be invented that could measure my indifference about who wins the championship.

As long as it's not Jack Nicholson, Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson.

But who can make sense of NBA officiating or, for that matter, NBA rules? After watching the playoffs, as nearly as I can tell there are rules, and then there are the real rules, subject to a referee's individual interpretation of course and whether, for instance, Joey Crawford is in a foul temper, as it were, or has it in for a certain player (see Tim Duncan).

Here is a little test to see if you know what the REAL rules are:

1 — If an offensive player is driving to the basket, a defensive player should: (a) attempt to block his shot; (b) try to cut off his path to the basket; (c) get out of the way and watch.

Answer: C. Defense is not allowed in the NBA. The defensive player would have drawn an automatic foul if he had attempted to play defense. Offense sells tickets; offense gets all the advantages.

2 – The rule of verticality: a) entitles a defensive player the vertical space straight above his head; (b) refers to the height required to play a certain position; (c) is a myth and does not exist in the NBA.

Answer: C. LeBron James flew down the lane and crashed into Orlando's Dwight Howard in the Eastern Conference Finals on a couple of critical plays. Howard jumped straight up into the air, arms extended directly above his head. Howard was called for a foul.

In some cases, defenders are actually backpedaling as an offensive player flies into his arms, and the defenders still get called for a foul.

The Cavaliers exploited this. They cleared the floor and let James drive to the basket one-on-one. He was guaranteed a bucket or free throws.

Let's not forget this oldie but goodie: The offensive player pump fakes a defender into jumping and then leaps into him to draw an intentional foul.

3 – If a defensive player and an offensive player are running on parallel paths toward the basket, the offensive player should: (a) pull up for a jump shot; (b) lower his shoulder and veer into the offensive player's chest; (c) pass.

Answer: B. It's guaranteed to get a foul call against the defense every time. Just ask Derek Fisher.

4 – A flagrant foul is: (a) punching another player in the face; (b) throwing an opponent into the cheerleaders; (c) nobody really knows.

Answer: C.

So, what can be done about poor officiating?

Nothing.

I called Frank Layden at his home Monday morning. Layden was the colorful and popular coach of the Utah Jazz before he handed the job to Jerry Sloan. The reason Layden left the bench was because the officiating was driving him insane.

The refs no longer get under his skin now that he watches them from a safe distance, but as we discussed officiating he said this: "It's just a hard game to officiate. These athletes are so big and strong and fast, it's an impossible game to officiate."

Layden is right. The game is a blur; it's like trying to police I-15 on a bike. Slow motion replay is not the referee's best friend, because then everyone can see what the referee couldn't see at full speed.

"The players are so big that they're blocking out everything," Layden continues. "And it happens bang-bang. This time of year, referees are tired, too. It's a long season and they're older."

Layden is convinced the NBA works vigorously to improve officiating – "They have guys at games to observe and to meet with the officials afterward and rate them and go over the videotape" – but it doesn't seem to make much of a difference.

"You've got to look for them to be consistent and honest," said Layden. "That's all you can look for."

email: drob@desnews.com

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