Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James has attempted over nine free throws per game over the course of his NBA playoff career, so when he went to the line just twice in a Game 3 Western Conference finals loss to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, it understandably raised some eyebrows. In fact, James had only attempted 10 free throws in the first three games of the series combined.
The surprising numbers caused Lakers head coach Frank Vogel to say after Game 3 that the Lakers were "dealing with the fouls through the proper channels with the league." In Thursday's Game 4, James made 11-of-14 free throws en route to 26 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in the 114-108 Lakers win. Overall, the Lakers shot 35 free throws compared to the Nuggets' 23.
The implication is obvious, especially for longtime NBA conspiracy theorists: The Lakers complained about LeBron getting hacked and the league mandated that the refs give their marquee superstar more calls. Even Nuggets coach Michael Malone joked after Game 4 that his team would have to go through the same "proper channels" as the Lakers "to get some more free throws."
Vogel has heard the chatter loud and clear and addressed the situation on Friday, clarifying that the Lakers did nothing outside of the normal protocol regarding officiating.
"It's very simple. We didn't file any complaint or anything like that," Vogel said. "There's a thing called the officiating portal that you're allowed to submit calls that you think were wrong calls from the game before. We do that every game all year long, as does every team, and this series has been no different. I think it's a false narrative in terms of what you're referring to with all the talk about the fouls."
Going through the "officiating portal" is a far cry from having data scientists put together a compilation of perceived referee bias, as the Houston Rockets reportedly have done in the past. Vogel credited the Lakers' aggressiveness, particularly from James, Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard, for the increase in free throw attempts. Malone said on Friday that the Nuggets had submitted clips of calls they felt officials missed in Game 4, but he also said that officiating was not the reason they lost.
"We can get caught up in that and use the refs as an easily, readily available excuse if we want," Malone said. "I'm not going to, because we didn't lose the game last night because of anybody except ourselves."
For the series, the Lakers and Nuggets have each attempted 113 free throws.