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Freedom Of Movement Rule May Be The Cause Of High-Scoring NBA Games


I don't know if you've been following the NBA season so far, but teams are scoring a lot. The point totals have been incredible.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Final score - 110-106.

Final score in this one - 140-136.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: Do not go away. We are tied at 117.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #3: 76ers hang on to win - 127-125.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #4: For NBA history, you got it - 14 threes in a game.

GREENE: Some teams have been scoring upwards of 120, even 130, points in a game and - get this - still losing. So are NBA players just forgetting how to play defense? Or what exactly is happening? Let's ask Tim Reynolds. He writes about basketball for the Associated Press and joins us from Miami. Hi there, Tim.

TIM REYNOLDS: Hi, David. How are you?

GREENE: I'm good. I don't know about you. I'm a sports fan who loves defense. This is just not the kind of play I enjoy. What is happening? Why are so many of these NBA games just going well into triple digits and beyond?

REYNOLDS: Well, I mean, there's any number of factors. It's not just one thing. But I think the thing that most people are kind of pointing to as the cause for this scoring explosion we're seeing this season is what they're calling freedom of movement. It's not a new rule in the NBA, but what it is is referees are now sort of enforcing the rules that are already on the books and calling more fouls, more grabbing, eliminating some of the hand-to-hand combat sort of stuff that we've seen in the league for a long time, and the offensive players are reaping the benefits.

GREENE: Oh, OK, so this is, like, sending a message to defensive players that you have to give offenses more room to operate or we're going to call you a foul and that's just letting offensive players sort of score at will.

REYNOLDS: That's definitely one part of it. And, you know, these are - even the centers now, and they're the big guys in this league, can make three-pointers. So the more open the offensive player is in the NBA, the better percentage they're going to shoot, of course, and that's one of the many factors why we're seeing a lot more points.

GREENE: So what do you do if you want to stop teams? I mean, is it still possible to play defense, or is the goal of coaches now to just make - like, try to get their players to score as much as they can?

REYNOLDS: Well, when you look at some of the surprise teams in the league this year, like the Memphis Grizzlies, for example, a team that not a lot was expected of, they're one of the league's best defensive teams. And they have one of the NBA's best records. So right now, if you are playing defense, which - if you're giving up 105, 106, 107 points, that used to be, quote-unquote, "bad defense."

But in this NBA, the teams that are still playing the best defense, even though they're seeing higher numbers than the past, those are the teams that are consistently winning right now. The teams that are counting on scoring 120, 125, 130 every night, you can't do that every night because some nights the ball just doesn't go in.

GREENE: Do you like covering this style of basketball?

REYNOLDS: I do. It's still the best players in the world. It's still basketball at the highest level. I have always been fascinated by how in the playoffs the perception is that the games slow down. The games don't really slow down in the playoffs. It's a misnomer. What happens is in the playoffs, or in games that matter most, teams will really focus on the defensive end.

And I'm like you. I like a defensive brand of basketball. I don't need a 140-135 game to be entertained. A 91-88 game is just fine with me as well as long as it's two competitive teams and the game ultimately means something and gets decided in the final minutes. No matter what the score is, that's a great game to me.

GREENE: Tim Reynolds - sportswriter for the Associated Press talking to us from Miami about the crazy scoring in the NBA season so far. Tim, thanks a lot.

REYNOLDS: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF FAT JON'S "624 PART 2") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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