- The Washington Times - Friday, May 29, 2009

Dwight Howard is the latest petulant one to have a technical foul rescinded by the league office.

This is not unimportant, considering players who receive seven technical fouls in the postseason are granted a one-game sit-down to mull their place in the NBA universe. Howard is back to five technical fouls after this edict.

He has a little more breathing room, and breathing is no small issue with him if he ever makes good on his repeated vow to play with duct tape over his mouth.

The rescinding of so many technical fouls - Kenyon Martin has had three rescinded - merely points to the consistent inconsistencies of the three referees.

They are endeavoring to control the proceedings to the point that it is suffocating the creativity of the principals and impinging on the game’s rhythm and flow.

By the way, that assessment of the referees is a no-no. A $25,000 fine from the NBA could be coming to this space.

David Stern is no defender of free speech if it reflects poorly on his sacred cows, the referees.

As the anti-Patrick Henry, Stern says, “Give me mute, or give me fine money.”

Stern argues that the referees make the correct call about “90 percent” of the time, a commendable enough percentage if they were shooting free throws. But they are not shooting free throws. They are controlling the fate of coaches and players.

And we know from the snake who is Tim Donaghy that referees are as susceptible to wrongdoing as anyone else. And we know from instant replay that referees sometimes get it wrong at the worst possible time.

That was LeBron James being able to force overtime with two free throws in Game 4 after receiving the benefit of a bogus blocking call on Mickael Pietrus with 0.5 seconds left in regulation. If the Magic had not prevailed in overtime, the call would have become a hot topic of conspiracy theorists.

It is true that superstars have a long history of receiving preferential treatment from the referees, but they earn it over a period of seasons. James started receiving preferential treatment the moment he signed a megadeal with Nike a month before he was drafted by the Cavaliers.

He is allowed to travel on his journeys to the basket, barrel into defenders and even show up the referees if he does not like their handiwork. Referees exhibit incredible patience around James, which is curious because of their short fuse with most other players.

Howard is not afforded the slightest leeway, and he is the premier center in the NBA.

Phil Jackson became $25,000 lighter in the pocket after he scanned the box score and noticed how the Nuggets took 14 more free throw attempts than the Lakers in Game 4. There is no telling how great the fine would have been if he had noticed how the Lakers incurred seven more fouls than the Nuggets in Game 4.

Not surprisingly, Jackson’s milquetoast commentary led to a correction in Game 5, when the Lakers took five more free throw attempts than the Nuggets and incurred eight fewer fouls.

This was George Karl’s cue to squawk.

“I thought they got the benefit of the whistle,” he said. “Every player in my locker room is frustrated, from guards to big guys. [Pau] Gasol goes after at least 20 jump shots, 20 shots to the rim and gets one foul. Our big guys have 16. Nene [Hilario] has six fouls; three or four of them don’t exist.”

See if Karl’s observation does not persuade the referees to his team’s side in Game 6.

That, too, is part of the problem.

Referees can be influenced by the coaches, not to mention a raucous crowd. Referees are hardly stoic creatures of impartiality. They can be prodded into seeing what others want them to see.

This is part of the game.

And it is the least fun part, as we are seeing.

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