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The relationship between NBA players and game officials is unlike any other in the big four North American professional sports leagues.
There is more interaction, like quick conversations. There are relationships that have been built — good and bad — over long careers on both sides, and the give-and-take can be a crucial part of the game.
Raptors fans saw it firsthand this week when Kyle Lowry was ejected in rapier-like fashion by a young official, J.B. DeRosa, who hasn’t quite mastered the delicate balance needed to calm down intense moments of anger and frustration.
He should have walked away and left Lowry to vent without paying close attention, a point Raptors coach Dwane Casey made quickly after the game.
Lowry also has to share some of the blame, because no one else knows precisely what he said or how he said it, but he kept going a few seconds too long. There was enough time between the first and second technical foul for him to realize what kind of trouble he was in, and the consequences he’d face if he kept it up.
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What was missing was that balance between arguments — those spur-of-the-moment outbursts — and someone, usually the official, taking the higher road.
“The veteran official calls a tech (and) walks away, because he understands the moment, the frustration level,” Casey said.
The trouble is, the number of truly veteran officials is dwindling (of the 64 regular refs, only 20 of them have 20 or more years of service, and 28 have yet to officiate for 10 years) and because there is so much interaction between player and ref, it takes time — a lot of time — to gain the necessary experience to defuse a situation.
“Back in the old days, officials wouldn’t even acknowledge you. They wouldn’t even talk to you unless they were trying to put you in your place,” Casey said. “Now they do a good job of communicating when they need to. There are certain situations (where) I think they should walk away and understand what the level of frustration in the moment — in the game — is and handle it. That’s where a veteran official has a better feel.”
Some day they’ll grow into the job.
“We’ve got some good young officials that need experience, like players, like coaches,” Casey said. “And they’re growing. They’re going to make mistakes. We understand that.
“We have a good group of veteran officials that are good leaders, good mentors, that have to lead in those situations.”
The Minnesota Timberwolves hit a bit of a bump when they were routed Wednesday night by the Golden State Warriors, who were playing without Kevin Durant. Still, one of the more intriguing teams in the NBA is off to an excellent start, among the top teams in the Western Conference with a 7-4 record heading into Thursday night. Included in those seven wins were five victories in a row, and the last time a Minnesota team rattled off five straight was Jan. 2 to 10, 2009. But with so much of the season to go and a relatively young team, coach Tom Thibodeau isn’t going to let them get too full of themselves: “Obviously, it’s better than losing, but the big thing is for us to concentrate on improving. . . . There’s another one coming tomorrow, so if you start feeling good about yourself, you’re going to get knocked down,” That was before the Warriors spanked them, so the coach knows what of he speaks.
SPUR OF THE MILESTONE
The ageless Manu Ginobili of the San Antonio Spurs went past the 1,000-game mark this week, and there’s never been a player who’s had such an impact over that period of time. Now, a lot of it has to do with the teammates he’s had and the franchise he’s spent his entire career with, but of the first 1,000 games the Argentine wonder played, he was on the winning side 728 times — the most ever by a player at the 1,000-game plateau. Not surprisingly, second-best was Tony Parker with 718 and Tim Duncan won 707 of his first 1,000 for fourth on the list. Former Chicago Bull Scottie Pippen (715) broke up the Spurs domination and sits third.
There are some certainties this time of year: October and November come and the weather changes, the NBA season begins, and the Philadelphia 76ers stumble out of the game as The Process drones on. But times, and the team’s fortunes, are changing. When Philadelphia beat the Indiana Pacers last weekend and then toppled the Utah Jazz on Tuesday, it ran their record to 6-4 heading into Thursday at Sacramento. Regardless of how that turns out, the Sixers will have a winning record on Friday morning and this marks the first week they’ve been over .500 on any November morning since 2013.
Jared Sullinger, whose all-to-brief stint with the Raptors was ruined by pre-season foot surgery a year ago, seems to have found a nice new home. Having washed out with three NBA teams — Boston, Toronto and Phoenix after the Raptors dealt him for P.J. Tucker — Sullinger is having a wonderful season in China with the Shenzhen Leopards. So good that the six-foot-nine forward set a new high in China’s CBA last weekend with 55 points against Xinjiang. He began this week averaging 47.3 points and 17.7 rebounds per game.
The Sacramento Kings upset the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday for their second win in 10 games, and were going after No. 3 when they hosted the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday night. Two wins, or even three, are nothing really to crow about, but the Kings are trying to end one of the longest stretches of futility of the recent era and every victory counts. Sacramento has not put together a season of 35 wins or more in the last 10, and the march to even mediocrity is long. It’s almost impossible for a bad team to stay that bad for so long. The Kings are the gold standard when it comes to poor records.