After the Lakers dropped to 0-3 to start the season following a 143-142 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, the steamed coach opened his postgame news conference with comments about the officiating thus far this season.
“Let me start here. … I wasn’t going to say anything. I was going to save my money, but I just can’t anymore,” Walton said. “It’s  points in the paint [by the Lakers] to 50, [and yet] again they outshoot us from the free throw line — 38 free throws [to 26 by the Lakers]. Watch the play where I got a technical foul. Watch what happened to LeBron James’ arm. It’s the same thing that James Harden and Chris Paul [drew fouls on and] shot 30 free throws on us the night before. … We are scoring 70 points a night. In the paint.”
Added Walton: “Watch how Josh Hart plays this game. He played 40 minutes tonight. All he does is attack the rim. Zero free throws tonight. Zero. So to me, it doesn’t matter. I know they’re young, I get that. But if we are going to play a certain way, let’s not reward people for flopping 30 feet from the hole on plays that have nothing to do with that possession. They’re just flopping just to see if they get a foul call. And then not reward players that are physically going to the basket and getting hit. It’s not right.”
Walton’s frustration has been building steadily since the start of the preseason when the Lakers had a hard time adjusting to the new “points of education” or points of emphasis from the officials on freedom of movement on the perimeter and in the post. The NBA wants to reduce “arm wraps, grabbing and dislodging by both offensive and defensive players.”
The Lakers were visibly frustrated by what they thought were a lack of calls against the Spurs after several players drove the lane and were adamant that they were fouled. The Lakers believe they were the more aggressive and attacking team after outscoring the Spurs 74-50 in the paint.
LaMarcus Aldridge (37 points) and DeMar DeRozan (32 points) went to the line a combined 27 times, one more than the entire Lakers team. It was the second straight game that the Lakers watched a pair of All-Stars go to the line more than their entire team.
During 124-115 loss on Saturday to Houston, the Lakers watched the Rockets shoot 30 free throws with Harden and Paul combining to go the line a total of 24 times. The Lakers team shot a total of 18 free throws. During that loss, the Lakers outscored the Rockets 68-52 in the paint.
Several times on Monday night, James — who finished with 32 points, 14 assists and eight rebounds — incredulously raised his arms in the air and asked in frustration where the foul was when he felt he was hit inside the paint on multiple drives.
“Umm, I mean it’s the — nothing,” James replied when asked about the officiating. “Nothing.”
James went to the line 11 times but missed two free throws with 12.8 seconds left with the Lakers clinging to a one-point lead. Patty Mills hit a 22-footer seconds later to put the Spurs up for good.
James later said that learning the new points of emphasis has been difficult.
“It’s just hard with the new rule changes. You literally can’t touch anybody — well, you can, you can touch somebody defensively,” James said sarcastically. “You just can’t. There’s nothing [you can do]. We don’t know. We’re trying to figure it out. But every time we’re on the defensive end, especially in the third quarter, we just kept putting them to the free throw line. But we got to try to figure that out because it’s just giving teams too many easy opportunities to just go up there and knock down free throws.”
The Lakers played without starters Rajon Rondo and Brandon Ingram after the two were suspended for their roles in a melee with Paul and the Rockets. During that loss, the Lakers were frustrated with some of the calls, particularly Ingram. The third-year forward shoved Harden and began jawing with official Jason Phillips moments before a fist fight broke out between Paul and Rondo.
Prior to that scuffle, the Lakers felt tension was building after they thought Houston’s James Ennis III clotheslined Hart and received a flagrant 1 foul.
During the Lakers’ season-opening loss at Portland, Walton’s team went to the line 29 times, equaling the Blazers. But the Lakers felt they were the more aggressive team, outscoring Portland 70-56 in the paint. Against San Antonio, Walton ran onto the floor and yelled at an official after feeling James had been fouled on a drive into the lane. James ended up losing the ball for a turnover with no call with just more than seven minutes remaining in the second quarter.
Hart, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds, said it is “always frustrating” driving to the rim and not getting calls. But the second-year guard said the Lakers players don’t want to react negatively and hurt the team.
“I don’t want to lose money,” said center JaVale McGee, who fouled out at the start of overtime. “Whatever [Walton] said, I cosign it. Does that mean I lose money? Hope not.”
Walton doesn’t dispute that the Lakers are committing their share of personal fouls as they are averaging 25.3 fouls through three games. But he wants to see opponents being whistled as well.
“We are fouling, some of that is our fault,” Walton said. “We are going to continue to get better on that.”