LeBron James often takes a pounding on his drives to the basket, and several especially physical plays against him in the past month haven't been called flagrant fouls.
The Heat is unhappy about that, and multiple team officials have spoken to the league about the issue, including this week.
In the wake of Charlotte forward Josh McRoberts’ elbow to James’ neck late in Game 2, the way James is being officiated became the narrative at practice Friday, the eve of Game 3 of the Heat-Bobcats series at 7 p.m. Saturday in Charlotte.
“We’re not going into this game looking for retribution,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, with his team ahead 2-0 in the series. “There’s not going to be a retaliation. But there are going to be more attacks.”
The Heat is upset that McRoberts was assessed only a fine ($20,000) for his foul against James with 50 seconds left in Game 2. Heat officials believe a suspension was warranted. “We expressed it with the league; we disagree with it,” Spoelstra said.
The NBA gave McRoberts a Flagrant 2 foul a day later, but if it had been given to McRoberts during the game, it would have entailed an automatic ejection. Instead, McRoberts was charged with only a common foul after the play.
“It should have been a flagrant, and it should have been reviewed during the game,” Spoelstra said.
James wouldn't say Friday whether McRoberts should have been suspended, but said "it should have been a Flagrant 2 at that point in the game.”
“What frustrated me is when I watch other games. [In Thursday's Warriors-Clippers game], it was three flagrant fouls called that got checked [on replay]. My foul didn't even get checked, and it was a crucial point of the game. … I don't cry for fouls. If the game is played and [called] how it's supposed to be, I'm OK with it.”
James added: “I take a lot of hard fouls. I understand that. Guys try to stop me from getting three-point plays. We all know the difference between a basketball foul and a non-basketball foul.”
“I already know there's going to be a headline tomorrow: ‘LeBron is crying for fouls.’ I don't want that. It's not about me wanting fouls or wanting to be pampered. I'm going to be my aggressive self and get to the free-throw line and put pressure on their defense.”
So does he simply want to be treated like everyone else?
“I'm not going to be treated like everyone else,” he said. “It's been a long time since I've been treated like everybody else.”
Retaliating is not an option for two reasons, James said: “Every time we hit back, we get suspended or get fined. We tried that tactic. It don't [work] for us.”
And also: “The game is different. If this was the 1980s, I would come out swinging. It's not. I mean too much to our team. I can't do that. Me being out of the game hurts us more than it would hurt the other team. I get frustrated at times.”
The Heat also wasn't pleased when flagrant fouls were not called on two especially physical fouls committed against James in the March 26 game at Indiana. But James was called for a flagrant foul against Roy Hibbert that night when “Hibbert's face happened to hit my elbow.”
Said Spoelstra: “It feels like we’ve been down this road already four or five times this year. We just want there to be a better vigilance and awareness of those plays. LeBron is an attack player. You're talking a top-five attacker in this league. Is it easy to officiate a player like LeBron or Blake Griffin or Dwight Howard? No …”
“If it means opponents have to take him out because a normal defensive play won't prevent him from getting to the rim or prevent him from getting a three-point play — that you have to be excessive with it — that should be penalized excessively, because that's what it is.”
The league says a Flagrant 2 foul should be called for contact deemed “unnecessary and excessive.”
Chris Bosh said “you see the difference” in how flagrant fouls against James are called compared with others.
“I know he's big and fast and strong,” Bosh said.
“But if you get elbowed in the throat, it deserves a flagrant foul. If we elbow somebody in the throat, I expect to get kicked out of the game.”
Bosh, when asked whether the fouls against James could get worse, said: “How worse can it get? He's been tackled. He's been hit in the throat. I would hate to see it get any worse. That’s damn near impossible without actually body-slamming him. He’s too big for that.”
Udonis Haslem said McRoberts‘ foul “looked bad. He didn't make any play for the ball. It looked intentional.”
McRoberts denied that and said he believes he shouldn’t have been fined.
So how would James defend himself on penetrations into the paint?
“I don't know,” he said. “There's only one of me.”