The Los Angeles Lakers fell to the Miami Heat Monday night, 108-107. But it wasn’t LeBron James’s 30 points or Bam Adebayo’s triple double making the rounds on the sports news cycle. It was questionable officiating by NBA referees. The Lakers have since contacted the league office about several no-calls, adding to the frustration they expressed after the buzzer sounded.
Lakers Spotlight Poor Officiating in Narrow Loss to the Heat
The duel between the Lakers and Heat featured numerous no-calls, which could have impacted the game given its one-point deficit. ESPN’s Dave McMenamin said that LA had concerns about officiating towards LeBron:
“The Lakers shared various clips showing what they believe to be clear illegal contact by Heat defenders against James that went unnoticed by the referees. James attempted four free throws against Miami, dropping his season average to 5.7 attempts per game, which would tie a single-season career low should it persist. The four-time league MVP has drawn a foul on just 6% of his drives this season, according to Second Spectrum data, which is the eighth-lowest rate among the 34 players to record 70 or more drives thus far in 2023-24.”
One of the missed calls occurred on a LeBron drive, where he was hit in the face by Miami big man (and ex-Laker) Thomas Bryant. James pointed this out, and added that the officials’ actions are not consistent with their words:
“When I went for the dunk attempt against Thomas Bryant, he clearly elbowed — like, arm straight across my face. And I asked him for the explanation — well, one of the refs said that he was straight up, hands straight in the air. Two of the refs said they were blocked and they didn’t see it”
The referees’ actions (or lack thereof) were enough for Darvin Ham to warrant his first technical foul of the season. Ham had his own thoughts on how his team was officiated, telling reporters that the amount of free throws James gets compared to how many times he’s attacked on drives doesn’t line up: “…the amount of times he attacked the rim, the amount of times he was slapped on the arm, which I could see plain as day, for that not to be called, man … he’s not flopping.”
Aside from James, Lakers point guard D’Angelo Russell was ejected after receiving two technical fouls for contesting calls.
Pool report on D’Angelo Russell’s ejection from the Lakers’ loss to the Heat: pic.twitter.com/SUEu5h5NDG
— Khobi Price (@khobi_price) November 7, 2023
It left an injury-riddled Lakers team struggling even further, with an eight-man rotation dwindled to six by the final frame.
As Ham said, what he and the Lakers are looking for isn’t sympathy, but consistency:
“All I want is an explanation sometimes and to not get that for the rest of the game and once I got my technical – Miami plays a physical brand of basketball, but we’re not complaining about how physical they are. We just want balance and consistency.”
Lakers and Bad Officiating: Not Their First Rodeo
This is not the first time in the last couple years where no-calls have hurt the Lakers in critical moments. It’s also not the first time that James has commented on such matters. However, it’s the latest example where James clearly took contact while going to the basket. But instead of trips to the free-throw line, the refs told LeBron and the Lakers to play on.
The key difference between this instance and, say, the Lakers’ games against the Celtics, Mavericks and 76ers last season, is that the calls in question were not on the final play. However, they still had some impact on the outcome, given the missed chances to add points to the board.
The inconsistency from officials is an unfortunate reality for many NBA teams, but the only meaningful traction has come with the purple and gold. Therehave been discussions on the need to hold referees accountable, including the possibility of fines for their mistakes (which does happen, according to Adam Silver). However, aside from the Last 2 Minute Reports, the only shred of accountability that came from league refs was their apology after the Lakers-Celtics game in January. They said the no-call would give them “sleepless nights as we strive to be the best referees we can be.”
Judging by some questionable decisions since that blunder (and even before then), it appears the referees have been sleeping just fine, while other teams pay the price.
The Last Word: Officiating Going Forward
It may seem too early in the season to scrutinize the officials, and there are likely other explanations why the Lakers got very few calls Monday night. Still, actions like these are the latest examples in a string of rough refereeing over the years. Players and coaches have consistently called out refs, and there’s been plenty of discourse on social media about it, too. It goes to show that the cycle of questionable calls is starting again, and it could grow worse as the season goes on.
The league investigated Eric Lewis’s social media activity for potential bias towards the Celtics, which came to an abrupt end with the referee’s retirement. That’s the farthest the league has gone in examining the integrity of officiating. This latest action by the Lakers should motivate them to do something more.
The NBA should take this latest complaint seriously to create more consistency among their referees’ calls. Doing so will only benefit the game, its players, and its fans.