In the playoffs, when the stakes are highest, a team hopes to avoid referees with whom one of its players or coaches has a running beef. As objective as NBA officials usually are, they do have memories. Here are five matchups of refs and playoff participants that might be a factor in the postseason.
Shaquille O'Neal vs. Bob Delaney
Since O'Neal's early days in Orlando, this relationship has been acrimonious. Delaney hasn't hesitated to T up Shaq for arguing calls (often vociferously), including once each in the 2000 and '01 Western Conference finals. On March 8, Delaney popped O'Neal with two technicals in a two-minute span for perceived offenses against the Jazz, including slamming the back of Andrei Kirilenko's head while descending from a dunk. Said Lakers coach Phil Jackson after the loss to Utah, "Delaney's prejudiced against Shaq. It's as simple as that."
Tim Duncan vs. Jack Nies
The Big Fundamental is normally the Big Stoneface as well—he's been whistled for only 29 technicals in his seven-year career—but after Nies gave him a tech during a Nov. 29 Spurs loss to the Warriors, Duncan became the Big Irascible. While cutting to the high post Duncan had shoved Nies out of the way; the league subsequently gave Duncan a one-game suspension. He insists the contact was accidental, and sources say he's still ticked at Nies for the call.
Chauncey Billups vs. James Capers
On Jan. 23 at Minnesota, Capers whistled Billups for an offensive foul with two seconds remaining; on Feb. 17 at New York, he called him for a hack on Stephon Marbury with 1:08 left, though replays showed Billups had made a clean block. Detroit lost both games. "The game ain't being decided by a player," Billups said after the Knicks game. "That ain't right."
The Mavericks vs. Joey Crawford
Crawford is known for his unwillingness to take guff, but he may be particularly disinclined to take abuse from Dallas. To wit: Before Game 2 of last year's Western Conference finals against the Spurs in San Antonio, Crawford approached Dallas guard Nick Van Exel during warmups and reportedly warned, "Don't mess with me tonight. Like Muhammad Ali, I'm a baaaad man!" Crawford then backed up his statement, ejecting Mavs coach Don Nelson in the first quarter and later tossing assistant Del Harris for walking onto the court.
Stan Van Gundy vs. Gary Zielinski
After Zielinski failed to whistle a foul on a three-point try by Eddie Jones against Toronto this season, the Heat coach made an angry rush at the ref. Van Gundy was fined $7,500 for "verbally abusing the game officials and for failing to leave the court in a timely manner." Miami assistant Bob McAdoo was also fined $5,000 for verbal abuse. The next time Zielinski crossed paths with the Heat, he gave assistant Keith Askins a technical early in the second quarter.