Lakers, 76ers believe NBA officiating left them in 0-2 holes. But that's not how it works

LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers are unhappy with the officiating.

Nick Nurse and the Philadelphia 76ers are unhappy with the officiating.

Welcome to the NBA playoffs where inevitably officiating (and controversial calls) can dominate the discourse. It's a playoffs traditon.

In two tremendous games Monday – the New York Knicks defeated the Sixers 104-101 and the Nuggets sank the Lakers 101-99 on a Jamal Murray buzzer-beater – officiating joined the players in the spotlight.

In general, I don’t have much room for blaming officials for outcomes. There are 200 possessions in an NBA game, and players and referees make mistakes.

The NBA prefers the discussion focus on players, but it doesn’t mean referees should go without criticism when warranted either.

MORE: College coaches demand more accountability from refs. Iowa-UConn call is the latest example

Let’s start with the Lakers-Nuggets game, and James’ ire. With 39.5 seconds left in the third quarter and the Lakers ahead 79-69, Denver’s Michael Porter Jr. was called for a foul as Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell drove to the basket. Nuggets coach Michael Malone challenged the call, and after a review, the call was reversed – no foul.

Crew chief Scott Foster called the contact minimal, which has been used as a reason to reverse a foul or not call a foul. So it depends on your definition of minimal but it looks like Russell was hit with enough force by Porter’s arm coming down to warrant a foul. It should not have been overturned.

The NBA’s Last Two-Minute Report will not include this play and whether it was the correct call because of when it happened (not in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime), but for the sake of discussion, let’s say it was the correct call. The Lakers still had a 10-point lead and extended it to 82-71 with 10:50 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Lakers had opportunities in the final 10:50 to protect the lead and win.

Yes, it’s easy to look at the Russell play and think he would’ve made his two free throws, and in a two-point loss, it’s easy to see why that’s frustrating for the Lakers. But that’s not the way it works. It doesn’t mean the Lakers would’ve had a two-point lead on Denver’s final possession. Too many things happen to make that assumption, and Lakers coach Darvin Ham understands that.

“Some tough calls. Some tough non-calls. But you can't use any of that as an excuse,” Ham told reporters. “You’ve got to go out there and be ready to make plays whether the whistle gets blown or not.”

The Sixers had complaints, too, and filed a grievance with the league over the officiating. The grievance is more a show of support for coaches and players than it is an attempt to alter any ruling.

The final 47 seconds were frenzied with the Knicks erasing a 101-96 deficit. The controversy surrounds Philadelphia's attempt to in-bound the basketball after a Jalen Brunson 3-pointer cut the Sixers’ lead to 101-99. Philadelphia struggled to get the ball in.

Nurse, the Sixers’ coach, tried to call timeout (twice), but he was not very emphatic (though he claims he was looking directly at a ref on one timeout attempt), and the Sixers turned the ball over which led to Knicks guard Donte DiVincenzo’s game-winning 3-pointer.

“I called timeout, the referee looked right at me, ignored me,” Nurse said.

This play will be part of the Last Two-Minute report and it will be interesting to see how the league’s referee operations department sees the clutching and grabbing the Knicks did on Tyrese Maxey before he lost control of the basketball. There is clear video of Brunson holding Maxey’s jersey.

“I saw Tyrese Maxey get mugged if I’m being totally honest,” ESPN’s NBA analyst and noted Knicks fan Stephen A. Smith said.

Plays happen fast, chaos is part of it. And the refs are paid to sort through that in real time, no matter how difficult.

But they won’t be 100% accurate.

That’s part of the game, just like missed shots and turnovers, and as frustrating as that may be for the losing side, it’s 2-0 Nuggets and 2-0 Knicks, and this won’t be the last time officiating is a topic during the NBA playoffs.

Follow NBA reporter Jeff Zillgitt on social media @JeffZillgitt

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lakers, 76ers blame NBA officiating. That's not seeing the big picture