Treat me like dirt
The NBA has the most inconsistent refereeing this side of football. Fine. But if we take that as a given, certainly there has to be something more interesting to say about the flux that is Association calls than "it's a conspiracy to advance the Lakers." We always hear about stars getting the benefit of the doubt, if not outright favortism, yet that too implies some cabalistic scheme to generate a market-tested outcome most condusive to network preferences. The preposterous thing about this is that it assumed that the referees themselves—certainly the most proud, tough, headstrong S.O.B.'s this side of vintage umpiring—would so willingly cave and prostitute themselves as pawns in a far-reaching fix.
What it also neglects is what exactly goes on in the interactions between players and refs, hinted at continuously in the media but never explicitly detailed. And why I can hardly presume to report it accurately, my sense is that it has a lot to do with respect. Pulling a Haslem shows disrespect toward the officials, and invariably lands a player several temples shy of objectivity, and guys who have undoubtedly proved their basketball worth are more likely to get the "just let them play" postulate applied lopsidedly toward them. It's not about letting them cheat; it's giving competency the benefit of the doubt. With Cavs/Wizards, and at least still technically in Suns/Lakers, you've got a pair of stars jostling for position in the minds of the refs and proving that there's a way to leverage calls that doesn't depend on racking up fines. It's a fight to demonstrate that they (and their team) understand the tenor of playoff basketball, are willing to go for broke, and don't expect the officials to bail them out—the kind of play that balding zebras nod at this time of year.
Plain and simple, you've got Arenas demanding respect by regularly going to the hoop hard with more than a fiery snowball's chance of success, taking the kind of punishment that'll earn him a break now and then. Not that LeBron doesn't do the same, but Arenas and his team are going from specks in the shadow of a legend to gutsy, and above all else adept, veterans every bit as worthy of the refs' deference as James. Kobe started out the series by getting flat-out robbed on a non-call that cost them the game. With his decimation of Nash, though, he asserted that he was the alpha star, and that his motley Lakers were every bit as legit as the Suns. Whether or not that should've been a charge (it wasn't), from that point on Kobe proved himself, and the Lakers, to be the more physical, aggressive of the two teams.
The Suns may have the record, but they aren't really playing like a team that's earned it with sweat and blood—in short, not playoff-ready.The Suns, just like the Kings before them, aren't getting calls because they're soft. As egomaniacal as many refs may be, it's not like they feel golden about being counted on by one team to protect them; in the context of the playoffs, that amounts to them getting used. This may not be the issue on every possession, but you've got to think that, down the road, it catches up with teams. You may argue that this is giving the mightiest of the stars an unfair edge, but think about it this way: shouldn't a truly great squad be able to overcome occasional human error, or not end up in spots where these judgment calls decide the fate of their seasons?
On Arenas and the deity: LeBron doesn't have a bit of Jesus in him. He's the angry, inexorable Father of the Israelites, plain and simple. If you're looking for the King of the Conqurered and Downtrodden, that would Arenas. Some better qualified authority on the Trinity should break the tie by making a call on the Holy Ghost.
UPDATE: Wilbon just said "Kobe's earned the calls, but what about Steve Nash, the reigning MVP?" Only conclusion is that, at least in this venue, he hasn't.