Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Step Back, and Move Slowly from the Basketball ; N.B.A. Is Enforcing Rule to Stop Delaying Tactic after Successful Field Goal

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Step Back, and Move Slowly from the Basketball ; N.B.A. Is Enforcing Rule to Stop Delaying Tactic after Successful Field Goal

Article excerpt

The league has started enforcing a longstanding rule that prohibits players from holding the ball or redirecting it after a field goal, a tactic used to slow down the game.

Professional basketball players can contort their bodies like acrobats and power through defenses like bulldozers, but many of these athletes have found themselves completely flummoxed this season by a rule so fundamental that it sounds as if it were designed for third graders: Leave the ball alone.

The league has put new emphasis on a longstanding rule that prohibits players from holding the ball or redirecting it after a successful field goal. It is known as the delay-of-game penalty, and players had gone years -- decades, really -- doing as they pleased without fear of officials actually enforcing it.

Teams commonly exploited the loophole as a stall tactic, as a way to buy themselves precious extra seconds to set up on defense after scoring. Many perfected the craft. Players nonchalantly tapped the ball to the side of the court, or even to one of the referees (under the guise of being helpful). Charles Barkley was known, at least on occasion, to retrieve the ball after his dunks so he could peg it at his defenders.

The league, though, has sought to eliminate many of the game's dark arts in recent seasons -- all the little fouls and violations that went uncalled or unnoticed -- and players now run the risk of being penalized. The first offense is a warning. Each subsequent call results in a technical foul and a free throw for the other team.

Officials have not been shy about blowing their whistles, either. Through Sunday, they had called 83 delay-of-game violations, according to the league. At this time last season? Two.

"It'll bite somebody in the butt if they don't concentrate in that area," said Gregg Popovich, the coach of the San Antonio Spurs.

Steve Clifford, the coach of the Charlotte Bobcats, said he knew the league was serious when the Chicago Bulls were cited for three infractions against the New York Knicks on Oct. 31. Clifford shared his observations at practice. Other coaches have incorporated drills, telling their players to treat the ball like a hot potato. …

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