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NBA Fastbreak: Bad news when a referee becomes the story of the week

NBA Fastbreak: Bad news when a referee becomes the story of the week
Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan is held back by teammates as he argues a call with referee Scott Foster last month. (Eric Gay / Associated Press)

The NBA has taken rivalries and made them the main event — the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers, the Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons, the Lakers and whoever they’re playing. But the league had to cringe when one of its referees rivaled the players for attention and became the story of the week.

Scott Foster officiated the Houston Rockets’ 111-106 loss to the Lakers on Thursday night, a nationally televised game fresh out of the All-Star break. James Harden and Chris Paul fouled out and afterward both took the rare step of calling out an official by name.

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“Scott Foster, man. I never really talk about officiating or anything like that, but just rude and arrogant,” Harden told reporters. “I mean, you aren’t able to talk to him throughout the course of the game, and it’s like, how do you build that relationship with officials? …

“It’s pretty frustrating. And I’m probably going to get [fined], but honestly, I don’t really say anything. I’m a pretty quiet guy, to myself, but it’s one of those things where you can’t voice your opinion. You can’t have a conversation with someone that’s officiating the game. You’re getting a tech. It’s pretty sad.”

According to the NBA’s public review of the final two minutes, the only incorrect call was a missed travel by the Lakers’ Brandon Ingram.

Paul, who had voiced frustration with Foster as recently as January 2018, told ESPN he wasn’t sure what to do about his relationship with the veteran official. The two have met in an attempt to squash any problems, though it appears not to have worked in Paul’s eyes.

Public criticism of officials almost always results in a fine by the NBA, as it did for Harden, who was penalized $25,000 on Saturday.

In a 2016 survey by The Times of nearly three dozen NBA players, assistants and head coaches, Foster was voted the league’s worst official.

Doc Rivers, who coached Paul, is aware of the fractured relationship between Paul and Foster. Asked about the comments, Rivers defended the refs.

“Every game you lose, there’s somebody you’re going to blame,” Rivers said. “[The refs] are first and you look at the film and you realize, most of the time, it was probably us. It’s a relationship business. It always will be. It’s human nature that everyone doesn’t get along. It’d be nice if we did, but I’m not surprised by any of it.”

Tanks for nothing

As teams fall out of playoff races and start positioning for the best draft lottery odds, it’s been pointed out that losing can have lasting effects on teams.

Memphis coach J.B. Bickerstaff said he hopes the Grizzlies start winning despite fans’ desire to get the top pick, something that would take a combination of luck and losing.

“The hardest thing to do in teaching is to teach people how to win,” Bickerstaff said. “Teams get stuck in these ruts where they continue to lose and you form losing habits, just like you form winning habits. It’s difficult after three seasons, four seasons, whatever it may be, to just flip a switch and understand what matters in fourth quarters.”

It’s probably an easier decision for Memphis to make — the Grizzlies own the sixth-worst record in the NBA and would need a lot of help to get into the top three of the draft order.

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While Jaren Jackson Jr.’s thigh bruise will sideline him for some time, Memphis just hasn’t been bad enough for long enough to land at the top of the draft.

Tip-ins

All-Star guard Bradley Beal has been rather heroic for the Washington Wizards, a team that’s had to deal with losing and a season-ending injury to John Wall. Since December, Beal is averaging nearly 28 points, six assists and five-plus rebounds. For teams that miss out on Anthony Davis this summer, Beal will be a top trade candidate if Washington listens to offers. … DeMar DeRozan’s return to Toronto on Friday ended in the worst way, with Kawhi Leonard stealing the ball from the former Raptor for whom he was traded and slamming home the game-winning basket. … You might not see a better shot this season than Oklahoma City forward Paul George’s game-winning floater Friday night, with the most-valuable-player candidate lofting the ball high over over Utah center Rudy Gobert with less than a second left.

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