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With Miami's win streak coming to an abrupt halt, NBA talk has shifted to fouls. LeBron James thinks he gets fouled too often, and everybody thinks Kobe Bryant got away with one at the end of the Lakers/T-Wolves game.
James had a lot to say about fouls after the Heat lost to Chicago on Wednesday night, telling reporters, "I believe and I know that a lot of my fouls are not basketball plays. First of all, Kirk Hinrich in the first quarter basically grabbed me with two hands and brought me to the ground. The last one, Taj Gibson was able to collar me around my shoulder and bring me to the ground. Those are not defensive ... those are not basketball plays."
To voice his outrage over being defended physically right after his team's first loss in the better part of two months is just the sort of idiot public relations move we've come to expect from LBJ. I think he gets marketing advice from fellow Miamian Alex Rodriguez. That said, he does have a point. James is one of the most physically-imposing players in the league. Defenders bounce off of him like bullets off Superman's chest. To commit a foul hard enough to actually slow him would constitute assault and battery on a mere mortal.
But he's hardly the first NBA player to deal with overly-physical defense. Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard voiced similar concerns during their heyday. Of course, hard fouls on Shaq or Howard became a legitimate defensive strategy, as neither of them could hit free throws consistently. James shoots a respectable 74.9 percent from the line, and has the fifth-most attempts in the league this season.
And for every unnecessarily-hard foul on a superstar, there are 10 plays where the call goes a superstar's way for no particularly good reason. The closing seconds of the Lakers' win over Minnesota on Thursday was just the latest example. Ricky Rubio's last-second attempt at a game-tying three was disrupted by Bryant. The referees swallowed their whistles at the time, but the league has since admitted that Minnesota should have been awarded three free throws.
Perhaps the non-call was some sort of karmic payback for the game the Lakers lost to the Hawks a few weeks ago, when Dahntay Jones' foul on Bryant's last-second shot attempt went unnoticed by the zebras.
In any event, the Lakers got a win - and wins may be in short supply for the remainder of the year. With Metta World Peace on the shelf for the rest of the season, coach Mike D'Antoni will start Jodie Meeks at the two and move Bryant to small forward - an assignment made more difficult by the fact that Kobe is playing with a painful bone spur in his left foot. That means the Lakers - a team that cannot defend opposing point guards - won't have much luck slowing opposition wings either.
Picks for the Week
All percent-owned stats are from Yahoo! Your leagueís mileage may vary.
Larry Sanders (79%) - He'll get lots of press for his career-high 21-point explosion (on 8-of-11 shooting) against the Lakers on Thursday, but Sanders has been a tremendous waiver wire find for much of this season and should certainly be owned in just about every league. Over his last five games, he's averaging over 15 points, 12 boards, and two blocks per game.
Mario Chalmers (53%) - Chalmers has been hot from three of late, and he could have a larger role in the offense for the next few weeks as the Heat try to find rest for key veterans like Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen.
Tobias Harris (52%) - The acquisition of Harris is looking like a steal. The second-year pro - acquired from Milwaukee in the J.J. Redick deal - scored a career-high 29 points against Charlotte on Wednesday. The Magic's frontcourt has been decimated by injuries of late, so Harris should be featured quite a bit in April.
Maurice Harkless (39%) - As with Harris, all of Orlando's injuries has created lots of opportunity for Harkless to shine. The rookie out of St. John's has been racking up big steal numbers this season - 19 in his last six games alone. Oh, and he may qualify at center now; he started in the middle against the Knicks this week, as Nikola Vucevic was sidelined with a concussion.
Patrick Patterson (29%) - Patterson has been playing 30-plus minutes fairly consistently of late, but that's largely because DeMarcus Cousins has been getting into foul trouble just as consistently. Still, he's been productive enough when given the opportunity (12 points, seven boards, two steals, and two threes in Sunday's game) to merit a look.
Jodie Meeks (13%) - As I mentioned above, it appears Meeks is going to replace Metta World Peace (knee) in the Lakers' starting lineup. Antawn Jamison and Earl Clark will pick up some minutes as well, but in Thursday night's loss to Milwaukee, Meeks played 38 minutes while Clark and Jamison combined for about 40.
Lance Stephenson (6%) - Danny Granger is out for the year after knee surgery. Paul George is the most obvious candidate to replace Granger's numbers. He's been filling that role for much of this season. But you're not getting George (99% owned) on the wire. You can get Stephenson, and "Born Ready" figures to have a much more prominent role off the bench down the stretch.
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- Kobe Bryant