"NBA & Nike Lose if Denver Nuggets & Orlando Magic Advance to NBA Finals," an article at MarketingShift.com, begins like so: "Everybody loves a conspiracy theory, including fans of the National Basketball Association. Since the Tim Donaghy refree scandal,commisioner David Stern can't be thrilled with the complaints from former players such as Charles Barkley, accusing the league [of] officiating with a bias toward the Cavs and Lakers for a Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James matchup in the NBA Finals." Not only would a Kobe-LeBron pairing spell ratings gold, but it'd also sell plenty of shoes -- and as the piece's author points out, Orlando Magic star Dwight Howard "believes the new Nike MVPs series, featuring talking puppets of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, are an indication that the shoe giant has counted its eggs before they've hatched."
Oh, man, have they. Orlando's overtime win against the Cavs last night all but guarantees that James won't be competing in this year's finals, and the Nuggets can go a long way toward sidelining Bryant by winning in L.A. tonight. But they'll have a tough time doing so if the refs continue to punish anyone who actually tries to guard Kobe, as opposed to letting him strike a series of poster-ready poses on the way to the basket.
I'm not talking about the league's decision to hang Dahntay Jones with a flagrant foul for tripping Bryant in Monday's contest -- because anyone looking at the replay objectively knows that's exactly what he did. More worrisome is the tendency of officials to ticket any Nug who so much as invades Kobe's personal space, let alone lays a finger on him. Bryant has spent an inordinate amount of this series whining about being roughed up. But the truth is, he's been handed an enormous number of trips to the stripe on gifts that no one other than LeBron would have been given.
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Once again, the refs can go a long way toward deciding who wins or loses tonight. If they want to contradict the conspiracy theories alluded to above, they need to blow their whistles a lot more judiciously than they have in much of the series to date. And now, let's all say a silent prayer that Steve Javie isn't the man in stripes...