Danny Crawford assigned to work a Mavs game, setting off conspiracy talk

Kelly Dwyer

Does NBA referee Danny Crawford have it in for the Dallas Mavericks? Should he be officiating their game Tuesday night, as the Mavs try to move up 2-0 on the Portland Trail Blazers? All indications seem to scream "yes" and then "no" because Dallas is working with a startling 2-16 record in playoff games that Crawford has officiated. This stands in stark contrast to the 48-41 record Dallas boasts as a playoff team under the Mark Cuban stewardship.

But with the NBA and its referees locked in the horns of a nasty back-and-forth as the two sides continue to hash out their own differences, what can you trust in an atmosphere like this? This point reached a fever pitch on Monday as the NBA fined Portland coach Nate McMillan 35 large for his comments on the referees from Game 1 and admitted that the refs blew one during the first game of the Thunder/Nuggets series.


With the NBA going all out in an attempt to clean its hands of whatever nationally televised screwups we get to watch over and over again, the climate begs for nuance, smarts and patience. Does Danny Crawford have it out for the Mavericks? It's quite possible, but let's lead with his calls, rather than his record.

That is to say, watch the game Tuesday night. If Portland is set for a series of makeup calls following McMillan's paid-for attempt at making things right (in his eyes, at least, because I didn't see much outside of two Tyson Chandler fouls that should have gone Portland's way on Saturday), and Crawford is the biased hack who is set to hand those calls to the Blazers, then it should be obvious to anyone watching. So watch, and tell me where Crawford went out of his way to tilt the favor toward Portland's side.

[Related: More Blazers-Mavericks coverage]

Remember, this isn't the NBA trying to tick off Mark Cuban. This isn't the NBA trying to appease a small-market but vociferous Portland fandom. This is the NBA trying to move you closer toward the idea that all refs are incompetent or biased or both. It would much rather give up a Tuesday's worth of negative media coverage on a "story" like this if it helps shift the narrative, which then allows them negotiating leverage down the line.

Bottom line: Is it a coincidence that Danny Crawford is working Tuesday night's Dallas Mavericks game? Hell no. But not for the reason you'd think.

And Mark Cuban, ever the martyr, is doing everything he can to help by emailing a terse "not saying a word" reply to ESPN when asked to comment on the Crawford assignment. He could douse the flames or call it bunko or put the onus on his players and coaching staff to work through the Strum und Drang, but instead he adds to the back-and-forth between the league and its refs.

ESPN Dallas' Tim McMahon has more information on the history between Crawford and the Mavericks:

The Mavs won their first playoff game officiated by Crawford, a 94-91 victory over the Utah Jazz on April 28, 2001 to begin a comeback from an 0-2 hole to win that series. Their only win since then in a playoff game officiated by Crawford was in Game 5 of the 2006 Western Conference finals, when Dirk Nowitzki scored a franchise-playoff-record 50 points in a 117-101 victory over the Phoenix Suns.

Crawford worked Game 3 of the Mavs' first-round series against the San Antonio Spurs last season. That 94-90 loss for Dallas featured two controversial plays that went against the Mavs in the fourth quarter: an offensive foul against Nowitzki with the score tied and nine minutes remaining and a clear pushoff that Spurs guard Tony Parker got away with against J.J. Barea before hitting a shot that put San Antonio up five points in the final minute.

A couple of things.

First, it appears as if Crawford officiated the most crucial playoff game in Dallas' history. The Mavericks may have gone on to better things in the years since 2001, but for those of us that were documenting things back then, it's important to remind people about just how shocking that first-round upset over the stately Utah Jazz was back in 2001. Especially with the Mavericks down 0-2 in a five-game series.

Secondly, how many of those dodgy calls in last season's Game 3 did Crawford blow the whistle on? This is the sort of ambiguity and catch-all analysis that often tricks us. I'm not saying McMahon is part of the problem; he has a fascinating and well-researched recap here and he's been covering the Mavericks expertly for years. I am saying that we have to take these things one call at a time. Assuming Crawford makes or doesn't make them.

This is why looking at something like free-throw disparity never works as we assess the referee's performance. This is also why the "NBA refereeing needs an overhaul" noise I heard on a sports talk radio show Monday night is asinine at best. OK, it needs an overhaul, but what do you suggest? Beyond just moaning and complaining about calls gone bad, what is the way out of this? What does an "overhaul" entail? To hire "new blood," as the radio show gasbag offered? From where? Did you see any of those NCAA tournament games? Those refs were awful.

Watch the game Tuesday night, watch each of Crawford's calls and non-calls. Don't change the channel and then look at the box score for the winner later while counting up the free-throw attempts. I understand that if Crawford gets this one right that it's only one game among 19 that he's worked in an apparently spectacularly anti-Dallas manner, but adding things up in this collective way is never the way to go.

Just like the cliché goes, you have to take these things one play at a time. Then call 'em bums.

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