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Around the NBA: Livingston-Kirkland incident a teachable NBA moment

Golden State Warriors guard Shaun Livingston (34) argues a call with referee Courtney Kirkland before he was called for a technical foul and was ejected, during an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, in Miami. (Joe Skipper / Associated Press)
Golden State Warriors guard Shaun Livingston (34) argues a call with referee Courtney Kirkland before he was called for a technical foul and was ejected, during an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, in Miami. (Joe Skipper / Associated Press)
By Tim Reynolds Associated Press

The suspensions handed down to Warriors guard Shaun Livingston and referee Courtney Kirkland are a teachable moment for the NBA. The ref-player relationship is never perfect, but there seems to be more angst now than ever. The referees say they want more civility.

Referees have a thankless job.

Someone inevitably complains about almost every call they make. Fans scream at them. Players scream at them. Coaches scream at them. They get the overwhelming majority of calls right. The ones they get wrong become big news.

That being said, they’re not without flaws.

So that’s what made what the NBA did Monday so significant. The league suspended Golden State guard Shaun Livingston for one game because he got involved in an on-court altercation with referee Courtney Kirkland, a justifiable sanction because players cannot be permitted to angrily make contact with referees, ever.

But the NBA also suspended Kirkland for a week over his role in what happened in the game against Miami.

“We regret the recent incident between Courtney Kirkland and Shaun Livingston,” the National Basketball Referees Association said. “The NBRA has reached out to the National Basketball Players Association to explore ways to improve on-court communications and civility.”

It’s time to have those talks.

The player-referee relationship, while never buddy-buddy, seems very strained right now. Kevin Durant has been ejected from three games already this season, after getting kicked out of one in his first 700 NBA games. Goran Dragic was so angry over a non-call last week that he kicked a basket stanchion. LeBron James recently got the first ejection of his 15-year NBA career.

“At this point, it’s like they’re trying to turn me into a jump-shooter,” James said after his ejection last month, repeating a stance he’s offered plenty of times before that he doesn’t always get the same sort of calls that others get when they drive to the rim. “I can’t be a jump-shooter. I’m not a jump-shooter.”

Referees are taught to defuse situations and not add fuel to the proverbial fire. That’s where Kirkland failed. Livingston got in his face to argue that he had been fouled seconds earlier, and replays suggested he had a case. Kirkland then took two steps toward Livingston, hardly in a menacing way, but in a manner that didn’t help the situation.

“Both the official and the player were part of it,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.

Kerr took the high road, though it was clear that whatever happened shouldn’t have happened. Livingston loses a game check and now might find himself wondering if he’ll be watched more critically by referees going forward. Kirkland loses a week of work, and when he’s eligible to return starting Monday, he’s probably going to face even more scrutiny.

It’s a teachable moment for the NBA. The league would be foolish to not take advantage.

The week ahead

Some of the key games to watch in the next week:

  • Sacramento at Cleveland, Wednesday: The Cavaliers are rolling and now seek a 13th consecutive win, which would tie the franchise record.
  • L.A. Lakers at Philadelphia, Thursday: Lonzo Ball is shooting 31 percent, which the worst – by far – of any starter in the NBA this season.
  • Oklahoma City-Brooklyn, Thursday, and Miami-Brooklyn, Saturday: Mexico City hosts NBA regular-season games for the 25th and 26th time.
  • Boston at Detroit, Sunday: The East’s best team so far meets one of the East’s surprises, a club that is playing like a Stan Van Gundy team.
  • New Orleans at Houston, Monday: Doesn’t it seem like the Rockets, off to an NBA-leading 18-4 start, are somehow flying under the radar?

Warriors’ start

Golden State went 19-6 in its first 25 games. Believe it or not, that’s the Warriors’ worst start in the last four seasons.

Of course, “worst” is a relative term.

The Hornets, Nets, Nuggets, Pelicans and Timberwolves have never been 19-6. The Clippers, Hawks, Heat, Kings and Wizards have never gotten off to a better 25-game start.

Not having Stephen Curry for the next two weeks, and possibly more, with a sprained right ankle won’t help matters. But only five of Golden State’s next seven games are against teams with winning records.

Speaking of Curry, he’s already No. 8 on the career 3-pointers made list, with exactly 2,000. He may get to No. 3 on the list by the end of this season, and it’s not inconceivable to think he could catch Ray Allen for the No. 1 spot by the end of the 2019-20 season.

Curry will be 32 then; Allen hit his 2,973rd and final 3-pointer when he was 38.

Stat line of the week

Aaron Gordon, Orlando: A 40-point, 15-rebound effort in a win over Oklahoma City last Wednesday gets the nod. He had 20 points in each half, 10 rebounds in the second half, played 44 minutes and committed one foul. And not only did the Magic win, they won despite giving up 21 offensive rebounds and grabbing only two of their own.

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