NBA denies Rockets’ protest over uncounted James Harden dunk, Spurs’ win stands

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Spurs 135, Rockets 133 – nearly a week later – final.

Houston protested the Dec. 3 loss on account of a made James Harden dunk that officials ruled missed then wouldn’t allow to be challenged.

NBA release:

The NBA announced today that Commissioner Adam Silver has denied the Houston Rockets protest of their 135-133 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Dec. 3, 2019, following receipt by the league office of submissions from both teams and the completion of its investigation.

In the protest, the Rockets argued that the officials misapplied the playing rules by failing to grant a Coach’s Challenge in connection with James Harden’s fourth quarter dunk, and that this error had a clear impact on the outcome of the game by depriving the team of two points.  While agreeing that the referees misapplied the rules, Commissioner Silver determined that the Rockets had sufficient time to overcome the error during the remainder of the fourth quarter and two subsequent overtime periods and thus the extraordinary remedy of granting a game protest was not warranted.

In addition, the league announced today that it has disciplined all three referees from the game for misapplying the Coach’s Challenge rule.

With 7:50 remaining in the fourth quarter and the score 102-89 in favor of Houston, Harden stole the ball and converted an uncontested dunk.  The ball was dunked with such force that, as it cleared the net, the ball was propelled around the basket and upward, creating an initial appearance that it was not a successful field goal.  Houston then called a timeout, and the officiating crew conferenced to discuss the play.

After deliberation, the crew informed the Houston coaching staff that a basket interference violation had been called on Harden, and Houston asked for a Coach’s Challenge.  This request was denied by the officials because more than 30 seconds had elapsed from the start of the timeout.  But the 30-second time limit for Coach’s Challenges only applies when the challenge arises during a mandatory timeout or a timeout called by the opposing team.  Because Houston called the timeout in this case, it was entitled to challenge the basket interference call upon being informed of it by the game officials.

If the Coach’s Challenge requested by Houston had been properly granted, instant replay would have shown that Harden’s dunk was a successful field goal.

As a follow-up to the NBA’s investigation of this matter, the NBA will work with the Competition Committee to develop additional procedures to help prevent the situation with Harden’s made basket from occurring again.

Did the Rockets get screwed? Yes.

Does the NBA acknowledging that the referees misapplied the challenge rule but still not granting Houston’s protest really rub salt into the wound? Heck yes.

Does this prove the Rockets fans and fans correct in their theories the league is out to get them? No. This was a randomly blown call that could have happened to any team.

Was the missed call the only reason Houston lost to San Antonio? No. The Rockets were up 13 with 7:50 left. Their collapse went far beyond this single play.

Would Houston have won in regulation had the dunk counted? There’s no way to know. The game would have played out differently with those two points on the board.

The NBA’s only upheld protest since 1982 came in 2007-08, when Shaquille O’Neal was disqualified with just five fouls (shy of the actual foul-out trigger of six) in the Hawks’ win over the Heat. The teams replayed the final 51.9 seconds, and Atlanta still won.

The league is extremely reluctant to grant protests. But I’m uncomfortable with the reasoning here. Yes, 7:50 would have been a long time to re-play. However, the league essentially ruled calls matter more late than early in games. What ammo for anyone who argues only the last couple minutes of an NBA game are worth watching.

This also shouldn’t have required a coach’s challenge in the first place. It’s common practice to review during the next stoppage whether a made shot near the arc was a 2-pointer or 3-pointer. This easily could have been checked under the same logic. Hopefully, the new procedures the NBA mentioned at the end of its release will address that.

That’ll be no solace to the Rockets. For them, this just stinks. I don’t blame them one bit for resenting ever part of this entire process.

This Day in NBA History: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar becomes NBA’s all-time scoring leader

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It was fitting he did it with a skyhook.

On April 5, 1984, in a game against the Utah Jazz (played in a sold-out Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar took a pass from Magic Johnson, swung left, and drained a hook shot that gave him career point No. 31,420, moving him past Wilt Chamberlain to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

The game stopped as the celebration ensued as Kareem’s teammates swarmed the captain. He was taken out of the game at that point, done for the night.

Abdul-Jabbar wasn’t done scoring, however. H retired five seasons later with 38,387 points, a record that stands to this day.

Giannis Antetokounmpo doesn’t have home court, players forced to workout with what they have

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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo is spending much of his time during the coronavirus-imposed hiatus working out, helping care for his newborn son and playing occasional video games.

What the reigning MVP isn’t doing very often is shooting baskets since the NBA has closed team practice facilities.

“I don’t have access to a hoop,” the Milwaukee Bucks forward said Friday during a conference call. “A lot of NBA players might have a court in their house or something, I don’t know, but now I just get my home workouts, (go) on the bike, treadmill, lift weights, stay sharp that way.”

The hiatus is forcing thousands of athletes, pro and otherwise, to work out from home as they try to keep in shape. Equipment varies from player to player, too.

“It all comes down to what they have and what they’re capable of doing,” Atlanta Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said. “We can do a lot of body weight stuff. That’s how they stay ready. That’s the most I can offer as a coach for them to stay ready. I can’t say ‘Hey, can you find access to a gym?’ That would be bad management on my part.”

For instance, Pierce said Hawks guard Kevin Huerter has access to a gym in New York and guard Jeff Teague owns a gym in Indiana.

Other players face different situations.

“I’ve seen LeBron’s Instagram,” Pierce said of Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James. “LeBron has a house with a full weight room and he has an outdoor court. He’s got a different reality right now that gives him a little more access to continue the normal. (Hawks rookie) Cam Reddish lives in an apartment and it’s probably a two-bedroom apartment. He can’t go in the apartment weight room because it’s a public facility. So he’s limited in all things.”

Bucks coach Mike Budenhlolzer said he wanted his players to focus on keeping their bodies in shape and conceded that logistics surrounding the pandemic would make it tougher for them to do any basketball-specific activities.

The Bucks are still finding ways to stay sharp.

Bucks players said team officials have made sure they all have the necessary exercise equipment. Antetokounmpo noted the Bucks also had a catering company bring food to make sure they maintain a proper diet. Center Brook Lopez said workout plans have been sent to them via a phone app.

“They’ve done a really good job of getting everything taken care of and still having tailored workouts for each individual player despite the situation,” Lopez said.

But it’s difficult for them to work on their shooting without access to a court.

“Since the practice facility is closed down, I don’t have any access to a basketball goal unless I go to one of my neighbors’ houses and shoot outside,” Bucks forward Khris Middleton said. “There’s really no basketball for me. It’s basically like Giannis said. Treadmill, jump rope, some weights and that’s it. I have a couple of basketballs I can dribble in my house or outside, but no actual goal to shoot on.”

Pierce noted that Huerter recently asked him when players would be able to get back into the Hawks’ practice facility.

“I told him, ‘I’ll tell you when we won’t,” Pierce said. “We won’t in April.”

Rumor: If there aren’t big changes to Chicago’s plan, Lauri Markkanen ready to move on

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NBC Sports Chicago recently reached out to members of the media — myself included — as well as doing a fan poll asking a simple question: Which young Bull has the highest upside?

My answer fell in with the majority (of both media and fans) in picking Coby White, but it was difficult not to select Lauri Markkanen. Seven-footers who move well and can shoot the three like Markkanen are incredibly valuable and hard to find, but this past season he often seemed a combination of lost and passive in Jim Boylen’s offense. Markkanen has regressed under Boylen.

Markkanen apparently felt the same way. If there are not significant changes and a better use of his skills, Markkanen would be happier somewhere else, reports Joe Cowley at the Chicago Sun-Times.

Make no mistake about it, third-year big man Lauri Markkanen was one unhappy camper before the coronavirus put the NBA on hiatus. Unhappy enough that if the direction of the organization was going to stay unchanged, he’d rather be elsewhere.

Change is coming to the windy city, the question is will that be enough change, or at least enough to find a better way to use Markkanen? Chicago just started its search for a new person to head up their basketball operations, with several deserving executives expected to be interviewed. The questions become: Will the person hired have the power to make real changes to the Bulls culture? Is Boylen safe or will there be a new coach? Change is coming to Chicago, but how much change?

The Bulls still control Markkanen’s rights. This was Markkanen’s third season with the Bulls, he is technically eligible for a contract extension this summer but that seems unlikely. More likely is he plays one more year with the Bulls before going to restricted free agency. Or, the new head of basketball operations thinks he can trade Markkanen and get back players that fit whatever style the team is going to play.

There are more questions than answers about what is next in Chicago, including if Markkanen will be part of that future.

ESPN plans televised H-O-R-S-E competition between isolated NBA players

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Friday night started ESPN’s broadcast of an NBA 2K tournament between NBA players. The network also has bumped up the release date of its much-anticipated Michael Jordan documentary.

Next up on its quest to find content in a locked-down sports world:

A televised H-O-R-S-E competition, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Discussions have been ongoing among the NBA, NBPA and ESPN about a competition among several players in isolation — presumably using home gyms — that would include them competing shot for shot in the traditional playground game, sources said.

Details — including a schedule and specific player involvement — are still being finalized.

What else have we got to do, re-watch Tiger King? Let’s make this happen, people.

There have been some rumblings about trying to spice up All-Star Saturday night with a H-O-R-S-E competition to go with the Dunk Contest and the rest, but it has not become a reality. With no other sports programming to put on its multiple channels, this seems like a good gamble by ESPN.