Skip to Content

If A Ninth-Place Team Complains About Officiating, Does It Make Any Sound At All?

LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers speaks to the referee against the Orlando Magic during the second half at Amway Center on November 04, 2023 in Orlando, Florida.
Rich Storry/Getty Images

Nothing brightens the soul and raises the general mood quite like the Los Angeles Lakers complaining about officiating. It reminds us that they, like all of us, can scape a goat when they need to most.

Not that they particularly needed to yesterday in Phoenix, where they lost to the Suns, 123-113, to maintain their hold on the third play-in spot in the Western Conference for what seems like the entire season. They are barely over .500 because that's who they are, so a double-digit loss on the road should not seem odd to them. I mean, they've done that 13 times this year as part of an 11-19 road record that ranks 20th in the league, and they are 15-20 against teams with winning records, which Phoenix plainly has. In short, this defeat was not anomalous at all.

But what the Lakers found so galling was getting only eight free throws from the officiating crew of Josh Tiven, Natalie Sago and Tyler Ford. They are used to kinder treatment, it seems, which is why head coach Darvin Ham worked to deflect the usual questions about them being in ninth place with the time-honored answer, Because the referees are either cheating or stupid.

"I'm not one to use referees as an excuse," Ham said. "But it's becoming increasingly tough because of the inconsistency. I'm seeing our guys get the same contact on them as we're supposedly committing. And the whistle is not being blown."

LeBron James, never one to keep silent when a microphone is going untaxed near him, kicked in with a view.

"A lot of people, a lot of coaches, a lot of teams are like, 'That's all the Lakers do is get to the free-throw line,'" James said. "It's like this narrative out there that that's all we do is get to the free-throw line. I mean, we have attackers. That's what we do. We have attackers. Yeah, we shoot the ball from the perimeter, but we're not shooting 40 to 50 threes a game. We're not that team. We don't have the luxury of being that team. So, working it into the paint, that's what we're really good at. To have eight free-throw attempts is definitely not us."

In other words, the thing they rely upon heavily to win 52 percent of their games didn't happen this one time, and they lost. Well, you know else that's happened to this year? Boston, four times. And you know who else it's happened to? Denver, three times. The Celtics lead the league in three-pointers attempted, as James was trying to unsubtly infer, but the Nuggets are 27th. Yes, a game with single digit free-throw attempts has roughly a two percent occurrence rate, but it hasn't really struck the Lakers an inordinate amount of times.

And here's the crux of the nut of the basis of the problem: if you want to grouse about the officiating, have a better or more frequent reason. We know nobody likes NBA officials any more; no sport has a more noticeable officiating problem because no sport relies on officials so visually as basketball, and no sport has had so much trouble with their current officials because no sport has overturned its workforce so vigorously over the last decade. And since no sport actually does a good job of developing officials, it stands to reason that the NBA has its standard set of failings, and failures. And every team gets earholed a few times a year.

Did the Lakers get hosed Sunday? Who knows. But more importantly to the health of the nation, who cares? They may have LeBron (good for them) and a long history of success (although their last decade has been more miss than hit), but they are still a ninth-place team with ninth-place metrics to buttress that case. By this point, Parcells's First Postulate—you are what your record says you are—is clearly in force.

The Lakers lost yesterday because that's who they are, a team not as good as the opponent playing in the other guy's gym. If you want to complain that the refs rogered you, fine, but you have to pick your spots more carefully. I mean, the Warriors still grouse that Stephen Curry gets fewer calls than any other superstar in league history, which is at best unprovable, at worst an indictment on Curry's ability to sell a foul call, and between those two poles is just plain tedious whining. And, we might add, they're in 10th, so nobody's listening to them, either.

If you liked this blog, please share it! Your referrals help Defector reach new readers, and those new readers always get a few free blogs before encountering our paywall.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter