It was a busy day Wednesday at the NBA league office, where officials in vice president of basketball operations Stu Jackson's office were reviewing two plays: Howard swinging his elbow at Philadelphia's Samuel Dalembert, and Rondo whacking Chicago's Brad Miller in the mouth.
"Both plays are under review," league spokesman Tim Frank said.
If the NBA adheres strictly to its rule book, it would appear Howard is more at risk than Rondo to be suspended for Game 6.
As stated under Rule 12, Part A, Section 5-Q of the official NBA rule book: "Elbow fouls which make contact above shoulder level, and punching fouls, although recorded as both personal and team fouls, are unsportsmanlike acts. The player will be ejected immediately."
Howard was assessed a technical foul early in the first quarter for swinging his elbow, although he was not ejected -- apparently because it was not immediately discernable to the referees that he made glancing contact with Dalembert.
Howard finished with 24 points and 24 rebounds as Orlando defeated Philadelphia 91-78 to take a 3-2 lead in their best-of-7 first-round series, but his availability for Game 6 Thursday night in Philadelphia was uncertain after the NBA disclosed that it was evaluating whether Howard's elbow merited a suspension.
In a radio interview Wednesday morning with WIP in Philadelphia, Sixers general manager Ed Stefanski likened the elbow to a punch.
"The rule is obvious," Stefanski told the station. "I contacted the league immediately after the play. ... To me there's no difference than a punch. The rule states clearly if there's an elbow thrown to the head and there's contact, then the player should be ejected. The officials said that they didn't see contact and that's why they gave him a technical foul instead of an ejection."
In Rondo's case, a suspension would be levied only if the league office upgrades the infraction to a Category 2 flagrant foul.
Rondo struck Miller in the face as Miller drove for a potential game-tying layup with two seconds left in Boston's 106-104 overtime victory, bloodying Miller's lower lip. Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro argued vehemently that a flagrant foul should have been called, but official Mark Wunderlich could be seen explaining to Del Negro that the referees believed Rondo was swiping at the ball.
"Rondo didn't come near the ball. He came right across his face. I agree that it is a hard playoff foul, but you still have to call it a flagrant and I'm sure that will be addressed," Del Negro said afterward.
After a lengthy delay to treat Miller's wound (his tooth pierced his lip, a laceration that later required stitches), Miller missed the first free throw, then committed a violation when his intentionally missed second foul shot did not hit the rim.
If Rondo's foul is upgraded to a flagrant-category 1, he would be assessed one flagrant foul point. Players earn an automatic one-game suspension if they accumulate four flagrant foul points during the postseason. If the foul is upgraded to a flagrant-2, Rondo would be suspended for Game 6 in Chicago on Thursday night.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. ESPN.com's Marc Stein contributed to this report.