MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ Nick Van Exel of the Los Angeles Lakers was suspended for the final seven regular-season games and fined an NBA-record $25,000 Wednesday for shoving a referee, a message to the rest of the league to leave officials alone.

``I think everybody understands that if this happens again the penalty will be even more severe,'' said Rod Thorn, the NBA's director of league operations.

The Los Angeles point guard's suspension, which began with Wednesday night's game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, came less than a month after Chicago Bulls forward Dennis Rodman was suspended six games and fined $20,000 for head-butting a referee.

Rodman's suspension had been the third-longest in NBA history for an on-court incident until Wednesday.

``It was more than Rodman did,'' Thorn said of Van Exel's actions in Tuesday night's loss at Denver. ``Therefore, the fine was $5,000 more and one more game. I think we got Mr. Van Exel's attention.''

Thorn said he considered suspending Van Exel for the playoffs.

The league's action will cost Van Exel about $187,000, including $161,000 in pay during the suspension. It also jeopardizes the Lakers' playoff chances just three weeks after the team was splintered by Cedric Ceballos' unexcused four-day absence.

``It's inexcusable,'' Magic Johnson said Tuesday night of Van Exel's actions. ``You just don't do that. Now you're going to have to sit ... the rest of the season. Just when I thought we were smart, and then wham!''

The incident occurred with 3:23 left in the Lakers' 98-91 loss to Denver on Tuesday night.

The exchange between Van Exel and referee Ron Garretson began after a foul was called on the Nuggets' Dale Ellis. Van Exel apparently made a sarcastic remark about the call, and Garretson, after a brief conversation with Van Exel, signaled a technical during a timeout.

Van Exel had turned away before the technical was assessed, and he then followed Garretson to the scorer's table to protest. Courtside observers reported that Van Exel called Garretson a ``little midget'' during the subsequent argument, and Garretson gave out the second technical, which results in ejection.

Van Exel then erupted, using a forearm to shove Garretson onto the scorer's table.

``I turn away from him. He pushes me ... He pushed me onto the table from what I remember,'' Garretson told the Rocky Mountain News. ``Instinctively, I started to do something that I think I quite possibly would regret, and caught myself, and his players took him.''

Van Exel's suspension is the third longest in league history for an on-court incident. Kermit Washington was suspended for 26 games in 1977 for punching Rudy Tomjanovich, and Vernon Maxwell received a 10-game suspension last year for going into the stands and hitting a fan.

Just three weeks ago, Van Exel had been among the Lakers most critical of Ceballos when Ceballos left the team.

``He abandoned us, you know,'' Van Exel said at the time. ``At a time like this, at a time we have to stick together. It's going to be hard.''