NBA refs are cracking down on traveling — whether teams like it or noton December 5, 2022 at 1:05 pm

NEW YORK — Before the New York Knicks hosted the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday afternoon, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau was asked about the NBA’s emphasis on enforcing traveling this season.

“I’m all for it,” Thibodeau said.

Over the ensuing 36 hours, the Knicks were hit with six violations in a blowout loss to the Mavericks before committing another eight — the most called on any team in a single game since 2010, according to Elias Sports Bureau research — during Sunday’s 91-82 victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

But it was a traveling call Thibodeau believed wasn’t called on Cavs guard Darius Garland that landed the coach a technical foul late in the fourth quarter.

“Obviously there’s an emphasis on it by the league,” Thibodeau said postgame. “I think [the enforcement] is good, for the most part. But I think you have to be consistent in the way in which you call it.

“If it’s tight for one team, it’s got to be tight for the other team.”

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Neither side was happy with the way Sunday’s game was called. Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff echoed his New York counterpart after the Cavs were called for five travels.

“To be honest with you, every game could be called like this,” Bickerstaff said after holding back a smile. “But it’s not. So when it is, it makes it difficult to figure out what exactly we’re doing and how we’re going to do it.”

Knicks forward Julius Randle, meanwhile, said he had never experienced such a game throughout his nine-year NBA career.

“I’m not saying they’re wrong,” Randle said. “I’m not saying they’re the wrong calls. It’s just, I’ve never seen it.”

While Sunday’s game might have been an extreme example — New York and Cleveland’s 13 combined travels is the most for an NBA game this season and the most since March 2007, according to ESPN Stats & Information research — the league has seen a dramatic increase in both traveling and carrying violations in recent weeks.

October saw 1.7 travels called per game, according to analysis by ESPN’s Kevin Pelton. That number doubled in November. (During the 2021-22 season, there were 1.26 travels called per game, the lowest frequency dating back to 1996-97, the first year that play-by-play data is available).

What has been even more dramatic is the increase in carrying and palming calls. In October, not a single carry was called. In November, there were 44 — 43 were called across the entire 2021-22 season. Six palming violations in October were followed by 57 being called in November — 67 such calls were made across all of last season.

The violations have played a part in the leaguewide offensive rating going from 112 points per 100 possessions in October to 111.3 in November, as opposed to offense typically increasing over the course of the season.

And calls have been immune to situation, score and stardom. Shortly after Thibodeau received the technical Sunday, Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell was called for a travel a few feet away from the Knicks bench. Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry was called for a travel on a potential winning 3-point attempt in the final seconds against Dallas on Tuesday.

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