In the NBA this season, teams will see same referees more often

Lakers star LeBron James and NBA referee Scott Foster
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There are nine people who have been on the court to start four different games at Staples Center so far this season.

Only eight of them are players.

The other is referee Scott Foster.

There might be no better way to explain how and why the NBA has changed the travel rules for officials this year than Foster’s work schedule to this point. He was scheduled to work a game in Houston on Dec. 23, only to see the matchup called off when the Rockets didn’t have enough people available to play in accordance with the league’s health and safety protocols regarding the coronavirus.

From there, Foster flew to Los Angeles. He worked four games in six days, and never left L.A. in that span.

That simply would have never happened in past years, when the policy typically was that officials would go at least 13 days between working games in the same city and six days between seeing the same team after reffing one of its games. Those rules will almost certainly come back when the world returns to normal, but for now, in the interest of safety — and common sense — teams are seeing referees more often than usual.

“It changes things a little bit,” Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said. “But obviously, for safety and our health and the health of the officials, it makes all the sense in the world.”

Referees are tested for COVID-19 daily, just like players and coaches, and have to comply with new league rules about avoiding bars, lounges, clubs, public gyms and many other indoor gathering spots. Reducing their air travel is another part of the league’s plan to exist outside a bubble in a coronavirus-dominated world. The thinking is simple; less time in the air, less time around other people, less risk.

The Bucks saw David Guthrie and Marat Kogut on the crew that officiated their game at Miami on Dec. 29 and when Milwaukee returned to Miami a night later for the second half of the two-game set, Guthrie and Kogut were back as well. It’s not an aberration this season; Ben Taylor was crew chief in Milwaukee on Friday and had the same role when the Bucks played their next game there Monday.

There are plenty of other examples.

Zach Zarba lives in New York and didn’t have to get on a plane until his fourth game of the season, after opening in Brooklyn and then being crew chief for Knicks’ home games on consecutive nights last week with Scott Wall working alongside him in both of those games.

Marc Davis, Derrick Collins and Nate Green were the crew for the Dallas-Los Angeles Clippers game on Dec. 27, then stayed in L.A. to work Portland’s game there against the Lakers the next night. Foster had the Lakers on Dec. 25 and Dec. 27, then the Clippers on Dec. 29 and Dec. 30.

“We are working to keep our officials safe and reduce the amount of travel and potential exposure,” said Monty McCutchen, the NBA senior vice president who oversees referee development and training.

It can lead to some awkward moments.

Consider the case of Utah’s Jordan Clarkson. He gave referee Karl Lane a bit of a shove — it didn’t appear to be premediated or violent — in a game against the Clippers on Thursday, earning a technical foul. The next night, the Jazz were back on their home floor, with Lane part of the officiating crew again and after Clarkson got fined $25,000 for the shove.

If there were any hard feelings from the night before, none showed.

Clarkson got called for only one foul in the Friday game, a charge. Lane was the official who made that call, which in fairness was a pretty easy one. Nobody complained.

“Great way to start to 2021 ! a team win and $25k lighter!” Clarkson wrote on Instagram.

The NBA doesn’t announce which referees are doing which games until 9 a.m. Eastern on game day, which means not many know beforehand which officials are coming to town. But now that it’s clear that some refs are going to have extended stays in cities, at least for this season, Budenholzer says it could be time for coaches to perhaps be a bit nicer to those with the whistles.

Just in case.

“Maybe as coaches, we can be more humane,” Budenholzer said. “If you know you’re going to see that guy the next night, I don’t know, you better be careful and know that he’s probably sleeping on whatever it is you’ve said. So maybe some self-restraint, which is probably never a bad thing for coaches, is more in order considering we’ll see these guys on multiple nights and more often.”

Wizards’ Kispert likely to miss start of season due to sprained ankle


The Washington Wizards made fewer 3-pointers than any other team in the league last season. They didn’t take a lot (second fewest) and didn’t make the ones they took (fifth lowest percentage). One goal for Wes Unlseld Jr. this season was to change that dynamic, and second-year player Corey Kispert was a big part of that plan.

Now Kispert is out through at least the start of the season, sidelined 4-6 weeks by a sprained ankle, the team announced Wednesday.

The injury happened on a fluke play in Japan against the Warriors, but Kispert shouldn’t miss much time once the real games start. The Wizards are a little short on the wing right now with Kispert joining Deni Avdija (groin injury) in the training room.

Kispert took 62% of his shots from beyond the arc last season and hit 35% of them, both solid numbers but ones Wizards hoped would improve for the 6’6″ wing this season.

Scoot Henderson says he has skills to be No.1 pick but not hung up on it

Metropolitans 92 v G League Ignite
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Scoot Henderson came out like a man on a mission Tuesday night against the Metropolitans 92 and Victor Wembanyama — he was in attack mode. He used his explosive athleticism to get to the rim, his impressive body control to get off good shots, and his strength to finish with authority. And if the defender played back, he would drain the jumper over him.

A year ago, Jaylen Brown called him the best 17-year-old he’d ever seen. Scoot is better than that now.

Many years, Henderson would be a clear No.1 overall pick. But, not this year, Wembanyama has that crown because he breaks the mold with his size and skill set (in the NBA, height still wins out).

Kevin O’Conner of The Ringer asked Henderson why he should be the top prospect and got a confident answer.

There will be a lot of people making the Henderson case this season — and with good reason. He could be a franchise cornerstone player for the next decade.

Henderson, however, is trying not to get hung up on No.1 vs. No.2.

There’s a long list of legendary players selected No.2: Bill Russell, Kevin Durant, Jerry West, Jason Kidd, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Henderson can be one of them.

Unless Wembanyama’s medicals come back with red flags, he is destined to be the No.1 pick next June. That, however, will not be the end of Henderson’s story. Instead, it will be just the beginning.

Doc Rivers says he wants Harden to be ‘a scoring Magic Johnson’

Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
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We’re not in Houston anymore.

James Harden in Philadelphia will not be chasing scoring titles and dominating the game in quite the same way. Instead, he’s been asked to be more of a facilitator — but not too much of one. Doc Rivers told the team at ESPN’s NBA Today he wants scoring to go with the facilitating. Just like one of the all-time greats.

“I think we’ve talked so much about him being a facilitator… I need him to be James Harden too. If I had to combine, I would say a scoring Magic Johnson, I don’t know, but that’s what I want him to be. I want him to be a James Harden, but in that, I want him to also be the facilitator of this basketball team too. So in a lot of ways, his role is growing bigger for our team, and I just want him to keep thinking, ‘Do both.'”

Just play like Magic, no pressure there. For his career, Magic averaged 19.5 points a game (with four over 20 PPG) with 11.2 assists.

Harden can get close enough to Rivers’ lofty goals to make Philly a real threat, so long as defenders still fear his first step and step back. Harden can get his shot and get to the line, and he’s long been a great passer who has averaged 10.5 assists a game over the past two seasons. Now it’s just a matter of finding the balance of when to set up Joel Embiid, when to turn the offense over to Tyrese Maxey, and when to get his own shot.

Philadelphia is a deep team poised to win a lot of regular season games — the Sixers being the top seed in the East is absolutely in play. The questions Harden — and, to a degree, Embiid — have to answer come in May, when the second round of the playoffs start and Harden has faded while Embiid has had poor injury luck. In a deep East with Milwaukee, Boston, and maybe Miami and Brooklyn in the contender mix, there is no margin for error.

A Magic-like Harden would be a big boost for the Sixers in that setting.

As he chases record, LeBron says he has ‘no relationship’ with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Sacramento Kings v Los Angeles Lakers
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Later this season, health permitting, LeBron James will pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

Kareem has said LeBron has earned it, but also has called out LeBron on COVID issues (something Abdul-Jabbar apologized for). Have the two legends started to build a relationship as LeBron marches toward the record? Not so much.

“No thoughts, no relationship.”

This question was asked of LeBron days after Abdul-Jabbar slammed former LeBron teammate Kyrie Irving in a Substack newsletter, calling him a “comical buffoon” and saying he is a poor role model. Abdul-Jabbar has been a vocal proponent of getting the vaccine, Irving remains unvaccinated, and LeBron has posted on social media questioning the severity of the virus and the response. Plus, LeBron and Irving are friends, which could have sparked LeBron’s terse response (as could the fact he was ready to get out of the arena after a dull preseason game).

A week earlier at media day, LeBron had been kinder when discussing Abdul-Jabbar and chasing his record.

“And you know, obviously Kareem has had his differences, with some of my views and some of the things that I do. But listen, at the end of the day, to be able to be right in the same breath as a guy to wear the same [Lakers] uniform, a guy that was a staple of this franchise along with Magic and Big Game [James Worthy] over there for so many years, especially in the 80s, and a guy that does a lot off the floor as well,” LeBron said. “I think it’s just super duper dope for myself to be even in that conversation.”

Abdul-Jabbar has been more of a public persona in recent years, both around the game of basketball and discussing social justice issues through his writings. The NBA named its new social justice award after him. With that has come new relationships around the league.

One of those is not with LeBron. Will Abdul-Jabbar be in the building when LeBron does break the record?

We’ve got months for this relationship to evolve — if it does — before that big day.