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NBA To Crack Down on Physical Play

September 25, 1999

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) _ Expect to hear a lot more whistles at the start of the NBA season under a crackdown on physical play that was outlined to the league’s referees Friday.

``Rules that were always on the books we are now going to enforce,″ NBA vice president of operations Rod Thorn said. ``In the exhibition season, there will be more fouls than normal, but once the season starts the players will adjust and adjust quickly. There are no good players who want to sit on the bench with three fouls after two minutes.″

Four official rules changes are being adopted for the 1999-00 season, but the crackdown on overly physical play is not among them. The league will simply instruct its referees to keep a vigilant eye out for clutching, grabbing and banging away from the ball, or players being hindered running around screens.

Of course, what constitutes a foul in one ref’s mind might not in another ref’s mind, and Thorn acknowledged there will be a gray area regarding how much contact will be allowed away from the ball. But he said the league office will work with the referees in an effort to develop a standard that is consistent.

``We expect all our refs to know what to call and what not to call,″ Thorn said. ``We don’t want a lot of ticky-tack fouls called.″

The meeting between the referees and the league’s competition committee was one of several held among NBA personnel on a full day of activity in the league meetings, which are held every two years.

The day began with a general session, including a speech by commissioner David Stern, attended by team employees.

With trade talk at a relative lull _ although Scottie Pippen and Glen Rice rumors refused to die _ much of the focus was on the rules changes, be they official or unofficial.

Thorn, in a candid admission of what’s ailing the game aesthetically, said the league wants to encourage fast breaks and a more wide-open style of play. The NBA is coming off the lowest-scoring season in its history, one in which just the Sacramento Kings averaged 100 points. The league-wide average of 91 points a game was the lowest since the shot clock was introduced in 1954-55.

``Of the 29 teams, 25 of the offenses are basically the same,″ Thorn said, ``and I dare say that the majority of teams don’t have a secondary fast break in their play book anymore. We’re hoping this will get offenses to do some different things. We want to see some different looks and attacks.″

The officials rules changes are:

_A prohibition on forearm checking, except below the free-throw line.

_A 5-second rule limiting the amount of time an offensive player not facing the basket can control the ball below the free-throw line before he must pass, shoot or pick up his dribble.

_Resetting the shot clock to 14 seconds instead of 24 on certain stoppages of play.

_An exemption from illegal defense rules for players positioned on the strong side of the court.

The change in the illegal defense rule will amount to allowing a zone defense in the low post. Theoretically, it will encourage defenses to use double-teams to guard against entry passes into the low post, thereby deterring offenses from dumping the ball into the big man and then standing around waiting for him to either make a move or pass the ball out to the 3-point line. The result, hopefully, will be more cutting, passing and mid-range jump shooting.

``It’s going to be harder to score in a set, half-court offense, so it’ll be in teams’ best interests to run, push the ball upcourt and shoot the ball early,″ Thorn said.

Coaches and team executives said they will take a wait-and-see attitude toward the rules changes, which were first enforced during summer league games and resulted in a inordinate number of fouls.

``I think they’re good recommendations, but we’ll have to see how they are,″ Indiana president Donnie Walsh said. ``I think the league will be open to adjusting them to get the game back to where it was.″

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