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Old 10-02-09, 04:40 AM
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FanHouse: Nuggets try to trick replacement refs

Despite Denver's Trickery, Replacement Refs Decent in Debut
Posted Oct 02, 2009 2:30AM
By Chris Tomasson

Referees C.J. Washington #158, Trey Maddox #129 and Deldre Carr #110

SALT LAKE CITY -- It seemed as good of a time as any to test these rookies.

Thursday's preseason opener marked the first NBA game for three replacement officials. The Denver Nuggets didn't wait long before resorting to some trickery.

Late in the first half of their 103-87 loss to Utah at EnergySolutions Arena, Nuggets forward Renaldo Balkman was fouled, and timeout was called. After the timeout, rather than have Balkman, a 53.6 percent career free-throw shooter, go to the line, up stepped Nuggets guard Arron Affalo, a 79.7-percent career marksman.

Thankfully, the replacements caught it and ordered Balkman to the line. If not, they might have been replaced.

"It works in high school,'' Nuggets coach George Karl said of the old trick. "I don't think it's ever worked (in the NBA).' :smirk

Not that anybody is going to make a movie about them called The Replacements (wait a minute, that title already has been taken), but overall it wasn't too bad of a night for the substitute teachers. They have been called in to work games with the regular officials locked out after failing to agree to NBA-desired monetary concessions.

So the main attractions Thursday weren't necessarily No. 15, Denver forward Carmelo Anthony, or No. 5, Utah forward Carlos Boozer. They were No. 129, Tre Maddox, No. 110, Deldre Carr, and No. 158, C.J. Washington.

Considering rookie officials historically wear higher numbers, it's a general NBA rule that if the numbers of the three officials add up to be well over 100, it's going to be a long night. But no one had ever seen a game when the numbers of the three officials added up to 397.

Carlos Boozer and Malik Allen "One hundred thousand, five hundred and six, he was good,'' joked Boozer after the game when asked about an official he thought did well.

Actually, Boozer liked how all three performed.

"I was impressed by the refs,'' Boozer said. "They called a fair game. They weren't intimidated by us. I thought they had their composure. They made their calls, and they were confident. ... The good thing about it also is we can talk to them. You could ask them, 'What did I do wrong.' They'll tell you what you did wrong and you move forward.''

The referees earned some respect in another way. The NBA rolled out three young NBADL officials, none of whom even had done an NBA preseason game before, who appeared in better shape than some of the players.

"When was the last time you saw three officials with size-32 waists?'' quipped former NBA coach Tom Nissalke, now an analyst for a Salt Lake City sports radio station.

But, while the referees looked sleek, it must be said that not every call was. In the third quarter, Carr called Utah forward Paul Millsap for a block on Anthony that even Anthony admitted "probably'' should have been a charge.

Minutes earlier, though, a break had gone against the Nuggets. Center Nene was called by Maddox, the crew chief, for a foul on Boozer even though it appeared he got all ball.

"I don't want to be fined in the preseason,'' said Nene, who in the second quarter also didn't like being called for a foul on a three-point attempt by Utah guard C.J. Miles, although that one looked legitimate.

But even Utah coach Jerry Sloan and Karl, who have been known to grumble plenty, both said the officials were "fine.''

"We were worse than they were,'' said Karl, whose Nuggets had 27 turnovers.

The Nuggets also had 39 fouls while the Jazz had 30. Yes, these officials weren't letting a lot go.

``They did what they were supposed to do. They're getting a lot of attention, a lot of pressure is on them. They don't need us to grade them. They already got that."
- Carmelo Anthony, on the replacement refs

In the fourth quarter, when Denver rookie Ty Lawson was slow in tucking his jersey in while entering the game, the Nuggets were called for delay of game. Since they already had gotten a warning, that was a technical foul.

"They got a lot of pressure on them,'' Anthony said of the replacement officials. "But what they did was ref the game. They did what they were supposed to do. They're getting a lot of attention, a lot of pressure is on them. They don't need us to grade them. They already got that.''

You better believe they do. The NBA, which does not make officials available after the game unless it is to discuss a rules interpretation to a pool reporter, had an observer on hand, which is standard for every game.

But the NBA also had a representative from the league's referee operations department on hand. Such representatives rarely come to preseason games and only attend about 10 percent of regular-season games. But the NBA is sending about a half-dozen of them to nearly every preseason game.

"I thought the officials did a really good job (Thursday),'' said Nissalke, who was Cleveland's head coach when replacements were used in 1983-84 and a Denver assistant when they called upon in 1995-96. "I liked their mechanics. It's a lot easier when they're working as a three-man team (compared to 1995-96, when two-man crews were used for the great majority of the approximately 40 regular-season days regular officials were out).

"But the game is going to be a lot different when they get to the regular season. Some of the guys might not be tough enough to handle the pressure. Jerry is usually always on the officials, but Jerry got up one time (Thursday).''

At least the officials didn't have to deal with feisty Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin on Thursday. Martin, who earlier this week said he anticipated games with replacements would be "terrible,'' sat out with a minor leg injury.

There certainly was no animosity from the Jazz at the start. Utah forward Andrei Kirilenko, who said it's something he always does, sought out the officials to shake their hands. One seemed quite surprised Kirilenko would walk half the length of the floor to greet him.

"I was trying to keep it light,'' Kirilenko said.

It didn't help him. For those trivia buffs, who do you think was on the wrong end of the first whistle by a replacement official?

Kirilenko was called for traveling by Washington just over one minute into the game. The Russian wasn't enamored with the whistle, calling it a "European'' move.

"I didn't expect it to help,'' Kirilenko said of his pre-game greeting apparently being quickly forgotten.

It's good, though, the officials didn't allow Afflalo to shoot those free throws late in the first half. That wouldn't have been quickly forgotten.

Chris Tomasson can be reached at [email protected].

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