12 Ocak 2008

Not As Easy As 4, 5, 6

Sometimes an error is so egregious, so remarkable, so incomprehensible, that the astounding happens.

The NBA upholds a protest.

When Miami played Dec. 19 in Atlanta, the Hawks scoring staff was presented with this rather minimal challenge when it came to tracking the fouls of HEAT center Shaquille O'Neal:

Count to six.

Somehow, after getting to four they advanced directly to six, ruled O'Neal had been disqualified, ordered him off the floor with 51.9 seconds left in overtime in what turned into a 117-111 HEAT loss.

Heck, if it was a college game, it would have been O'Neal's time to go.

Only it wasn't. And this was supposed to be a professionally run professional game.

So on March 8, when Miami makes it final scheduled appearance of the season in Atlanta, it will play two.

First it will complete that Dec. 19 game, under the order of Commissioner David Stern, with the HEAT in possession down 114-111 with those 51.9 seconds to play, and O'Neal eligible to play on.

Considering the plight of the HEAT, it is doubtful even a doubleheader sweep would make much of a difference at that stage of the season.

But for the Hawks, the removal of a victory from the standings could be huge, with the battle for the final playoff berths in the Eastern Conference likely to come down to the final days of the season.

In issuing his reversal, Stern ruled:

"The Hawks were grossly negligent in committing this scoring error, since they failed to follow league-mandated scoring procedures and failed to respond effectively when the members of the statisticians' crew noticed the mistake. Because of this conduct by Atlanta's personnel, Miami suffered a clear competitive disadvantage, as O'Neal -- the HEAT's second leading scorer and rebounder that night -- was removed from a one-point game with only 51.9 seconds remaining."

In dispute in that Dec. 19 game was a foul called on the HEAT with 3:24 to play in the fourth quarter, one initially assessed to power forward Udonis Haslem and later changed by the Hawks scoring crew to justify the O'Neal disqualification.

By winning its protest, the HEAT was refunded its $10,000 protest fee, while the Hawks were fined $50,000.

To a degree, the error is understandable in these days of revenue maximization.

In order to create additional courtside seating, some of the scoring previously handled at courtside at Philips Arena and several other NBA venues is now handled elsewhere, often at a distance from center court.

That hardly makes double-checking the simplest of matters.

The difference with the Hawks is there is a history of sketchy math in place.

Just over a year ago, the Atlanta scoring table failed to record two points on a fourth-quarter layup by Toronto guard T.J. Ford in what turned into a 97-95 loss for the Raptors, in essence making them repeat offenders, although no protest was involved in that discrepancy.

Fool the box score once, well, it's a shame the opposition got shortchanged.

Fool it again, and there will be a price to pay.

Knowing the HEAT's situation, after all these machinations, O'Neal probably will come up with some sort of injury and not even be available for the replay.

It is difficult enough these days to get O'Neal to play one game, let alone participate in two the same night.

"In my mind," Haslem said, "we didn't play well enough to win and didn't deserve to win, so I was trying to move on. Now, we'll just try to take advantage of it."

Nonetheless, there could be a saving grace for the going-nowhere HEAT.

For those who forget, the game in dispute is the one when HEAT center Alonzo Mourning went down with a devastating knee injury that required major surgery the following day.

The injury not only is season ending, but, at Mourning's age, likely career-ending as well.

Now there is a chance Mourning could go out as a winner in what is expected to be his final regular-season appearance.

He deserves that every bit as much as the HEAT deserved the replay.

kaynak : NBA