Clutch time only at end under rules

League changes, whistles limit grabbing on defense

November 02, 1999|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Felton Spencer had seen the future -- and was still reeling from its effect.

Spencer, the backup center for the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, had just fouled out of his team's first exhibition game last month vs. the Philadelphia 76ers.

He had played six minutes.

"I have to adjust or I won't be playing too long," Spencer said about the league's rule changes.

He wasn't whistling in the dark, though the shrill sound has become familiar to many players during the NBA's summer leagues and exhibition games, one that is still reverberating as the 1999-2000 season opens tonight.

Given his limited role playing behind Tim Duncan and David Robinson, Spencer probably won't have to worry about the rule changes that much. But the changes will certainly affect the way the game is being played and might even alter the way some have learned to play it.

The alterations came in the aftermath of a season in which teams averaged fewer points (91.6) than in any of the previous three and was capped off by San Antonio's 78-77 victory over the New York Knicks to clinch the NBA championship.

An 18-man committee made up of players, coaches and team executives was formed. Their agenda: to change the pace of the game.

"The biggest concerns of the committee were how the game has slowed down," Rod Thorn, the NBA's vice president for operations, said last week.

In response to that, the league implemented the following: The five-second rule. This rule will prevent players who like to post up near the basket, whether they be dominating centers such as Shaquille O'Neal or physical guards, such as Mark Jackson, from setting up camp to bully their way for shots.

No use of forearms in defending between baseline and foul line extended. It will prevent teams from trying to slow their opponents who have quick, penetrating guards, such as the Philadelphia 76ers, and make defenders use their feet, as they were taught, to stay in front of players they're guarding.

On any violation where the 24-second clock would be reset to 24, such as a kicked ball, is now left where it was, or set to 14, whichever is higher.

Double-teaming on the strong side. This will allow teams to play a partial zone if they want to trap or double-team on the side of the court where the ball is being played. It will give teams with matchup problems defensively a chance to use gimmick defenses to stop a player such as Duncan.

"The rules have impacted everyone," said the Miami Heat's Pat Riley, one of four current coaches on the committee.

But the rules affect some teams more than others. Take the Heat, which adopted the bruising style of play Riley brought with him from New York. As one of the favorites in the Eastern Conference, the Heat will suddenly have to go to playing more of a finesse game.

"We have been a defensive team and have developed a style of play born out of defense," Riley said. "I think [the changes have] taken an edge off the defense."

Despite coaching a team whose two most explosive players are Allen Iverson and swingman Larry Hughes, the 76ers' Larry Brown doesn't like the rule changes.

"I never thought our game was so bad," Brown said. "My only wish is that we call a foul a foul. If a player is given an advantage, let's call a foul."

If the preseason is any indication, players and coaches are not the only ones adjusting to the new rules. An average of 28.7 fouls a game were called per team during the exhibition season, including 96 in one game.

Thorn said that eventually the players will stop fouling as much and the game will become cleaner, more aesthetically pleasing.

Players such as Duncan are looking forward to the changes.

"Definitely I think it's going to help, especially teams who get a lot of scoring from the backcourt," Duncan said.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich noticed a difference almost immediately. After his team's exhibition win in Philadelphia on Oct. 10, Popovich said: "The picks were cleaner, guys moved their feet, there was much more free play. It was great for the players and the fans."

Not all of his players.

Just ask Felton Spencer.

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