by Marcel Mutoni

The League’s dream Finals matchup is in grave danger of not taking place this year, but that’s not making the people who think that some of what takes place on the basketball court is a little too convenient for the NBA feel any better.

With the once seemingly inevitable Kobe/LeBron clash in serious trouble, the League wouldn’t do anything to tilt the remaining games in Cleveland and L.A.’s way now, would it?

The Arizona Republic explores the issue:

“There was (a recent) story in our paper, a headline about that very issue: ‘Magic fans fear referees,’ ” Magic senior vice president Pat Williams said. “Isn’t that something? Before a playoff series in Major League Baseball in October, you never read that headline, do you? ‘Local fans worried about umpires’ or ‘Super Bowl hangs on the refs.’ It never happens.”

This is not to suggest the NBA is rigging games. They’re not. But given the league’s rich history of coincidence, it doesn’t take much to get the conspiracy theorists buzzing. And at a time like this, it doesn’t help that Nike is running commercials featuring Kobe and LeBron puppets, along with the inherent metaphor that somebody on high is pulling the strings.

You can almost feel the stakes rising. The games are getting more and more physical, and the officiating is becoming a larger part of the story. In Game 4 of the Western Conference finals, the Nuggets and Lakers combined for 84 free throws and 55 personal fouls. The lack of flow was ridiculous, appalling. Meanwhile, Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals featured 86 free throws, 58 personal fouls, much bloodshed and a few stitches.

With that much official interaction invading every game, one side is destined to feel bruised, cheated. Given the anticipation and pre-ordained feel of LeBron vs. Kobe, the NBA is in dangerous territory here.

Personally, I’ve never bought into the theory that the NBA has any say into who wins Playoff games; which is not to say, of course, that I won’t be paying extra attention to the refs over the next few games.