After three games in the Western Conference Final between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Dallas Mavericks, the biggest question is whether Mark Cuban finally has a legitimate beef against the NBA for the way its officials are allowing the Thunder to mug Dirk Nowitzki.
In Game 1, Nowitzki was all-world, backing up his coach's claim that he is one of the greatest NBA players of all time. But in the last game, Nowitzki practically disappeared.
While it was more subtle in the second game, with Nowitzki scoring around his average, Game 3 in Oklahoma City was clearly a mugging.
Nick Collison fouled out much too late in Game 2. At the end of Game 2, officials were finally forced to call a sixth foul on Collison with the outcome still somewhat in doubt. He had done his damage though, with Nowitzki far from his best game, despite his 29 points.
But Game 3 was a mugging. Collison mugged Nowitzki all night in Game 3, with contact on every shot. Yet he only had three fouls.
What superstar has to put up with such a physical presence, constant contact and holding and pushing? The answer? None.
Certainly not the free-throw shooting Thunder.
Neither Kevin Durant or Russel Westbrook, who had enough fouls called against Dallas to keep Oklahoma City in the game as it progressed to its close conclusion. Non-fouls, touch fouls and cheap calls meant a close game for the Mavericks, as did the disproportionate number of free throws.
In Game 3, the OKC Thunder made 32 of 36 free throws. The Dallas Mavericks took exactly half of that number, making 14 of 18.
Although Kendrick Perkins, the Thunder's enforcer, played 30 minutes, he had one personal foul. Nick Collison had only three personal fouls, even though he guarded Nowitzki most of the 24 minutes he was in the game. And Serge Ibaka had none.
Somehow, the sports media found that Nowitzki just had a bad day. Bad day? He was mugged.
For those who saw the entire game, there was hardly a shot when Nowitzki was not fouled. Hardly a cross-court move that did not result in Durant-type fouls. Hardly any situation when Nowitzki could not have gotten a call.
But he did not get any calls all night. He shot only three free throws, making them all.
The danger, of course, is that Game 1-type foul calling finds it way into Game 4. If it does, the Mavericks will win.
It is time for the NBA to become more cognizant of the way its officials shade games in favor of players and teams. Especially players. Nowitzki has never gotten to the "great player" level in large part because of the inconsistent treatment he and his team have suffered when facing at least some officials. Those officials who make biased calls for particular players.
The Jordan Rules have found a home in Oklahoma City's star Kevin Durant. In the end, the Durant Rules could decide this series. If so, that would be truly a shame.
The Thunder are not the best team in this series, Durant is not the best player and Scott Brooks is not the best coach.
So far, Rick Carlisle has largely had his way in this series. In the end, the better coach usually wins when everything else is even. And in a real stunner, Carlisle showed that his team and he were above the favored LA Lakers.
With Phil Jackson losing, Carlisle becomes his heir apparent. If he wins his first NBA championship, the path to future greatness is likely.
But first he has to get by the Thunder, with their Durant Rules. Not an easy path. But one he is likely to navigate in no more than six games.
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