Raymond Felton walked quickly and confidently to the line, ready to shoot the technical free throw the New York Knicks had just been awarded.
Lingering near midcourt with the other players on the floor was Danilo Gallinari, at the time third in the NBA in free throw percentage at 92.5 percent and in the midst of a streak of 43 consecutive makes.
Wait a minute. THEY decided?
You mean NBA coaches, who sometimes barely sleep for fear of being unprepared, wouldn’t have a policy for handling what’s essentially a chance at a free point _ especially in a season when technicals seemed guaranteed to rise with the league cracking down on complaining?
Actually, though they say they want the guy with the best percentage, they sometimes find reasons to bump him for someone else. Sometimes it’s for a guy who’s red hot; other times it’s for a guy who’s ice cold.
“Every once in a while I pull one out of the hat,” Denver coach George Karl said. “Guy’s struggling, every once in a while I’ll let a guy shoot it.”
Otherwise, Karl is usually fine with either Carmelo Anthony or Chauncey Billups shooting them. D'Antoni feels the same about Gallinari or Felton, who is now neck-and-neck with the Italian for the team lead.
Not that he’ll be looking over to the coach’s box for permission to shoot even if he falls too far behind.
“I’ve got one of the best if not the best free throw percentage on the team and guys look at me as their leader, so they tell me, ‘Hey, go shoot it,’” Felton said.
Karl will put his foot down when necessary.
“In a clutch situation, an end of game situation, it’s always going to be Chauncey Billups,” he said.
If there was ever a season to make certain the technical procedures were in order, this was it. The NBA informed teams during the preseason it would expand its enforcement of the “respect for the game” guidelines. Refs would be calling technicals for any overt gestures, even those not directed at a referee, and the league warned teams it would not tolerate assistant coaches yelling at officials from the benches.
With that in mind, the Minnesota Timberwolves reminded players of their policy to go with the player with the highest percentage, and how to react if the plan had to be changed.
“A scenario might happen where somebody just gets in a funk and let’s say they’ve missed three or four free throws for whatever reason. They might have an injured shoulder or something. So then it’s the next guy in line,” coach Kurt Rambis said. “We’ve kind of mishandled that a couple times this year. I got the team in the locker room and made sure they understood what we expect of them in technical foul situations.”
Not that most players need a reminder who among them has the best stats.
“Oh they know it, they know it,” Oklahoma City’s Scott Brooks said. “They will trip each other in order to get (to the line).”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he rarely gets involved in the who-shoots-it decision.
“We’re not doing it by straws, I’ll tell you that,” Spoelstra said.
Still, there are times when the logic gets questioned, especially when outstanding shooters like James Jones or Mario Chalmers are on the floor for Miami. Even in those instances, chances are if LeBron James _ a 77 percent shooter this year, sixth best among the Heat regulars _ is on the floor, he’ll likely take the shot.
“We’ve talked about it and I get it,” Spoelstra said. “Primarily, usually, it’ll be the best free throw shooter. In a couple different circumstances, i.e., if one guy’s in rhythm and he’s shot a lot of free throws in that quarter and made quite a few of them, he’ll step in and shoot it.”
And the formula isn’t just a mystery to Spoelstra. Heat star Dwyane Wade _ only a 73 percent shooter this season _ doesn’t know the exact method for picking a shooter, either.
He just knows he won’t be the guy.
“I’m not in the conversation,” Wade said. “I don’t even look at the free throw line when a technical comes, because I know there’s probably at least three guys on the floor shooting a better percentage than me. Most of the time it goes by percentage _ but LeBron, he pretty much runs up there and takes it. … We don’t care. We just want him to make it.”
Brooks’ team has an easy choice in scoring champion Kevin Durant, among the league’s top 10 foul shooters.
“Kevin was terrific last year shooting (techs),” Brooks said. “I think he made like, I don’t know, 45 out of 46.”
Teams such as New Orleans (Chris Paul), Phoenix (Steve Nash) and Dallas (Dirk Nowitzki) also can rely on their best player. Boston’s Ray Allen is a career 89 percent shooter who has normally shot the techs on all three of his NBA teams, but said occasionally it’s best to look elsewhere.
“Sometimes a guy needs a free throw to get himself going,” Allen said. “So you just kind of defer to him and say, ‘Go ahead and get a shot up, free shot, get your feel with the ball.’”
Other times it’s better to go with the guy who has the hot hand, which is why Spoelstra will allow players in rhythm to shoot. He’ll point to someone if nobody goes to the line, but players rarely need the help.
“I don’t have to call out. They know,” Rambis said with a smile. “Believe me, they know.”
AP Sports Writers Tim Reynolds in Miami and Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.