Stackhouse suspended one game for flagrant foul

MIAMI -- Shaquille O'Neal mocked his collision with Jerry Stackhouse as being less vicious than a love tap from his daughters. The NBA declared it worthy of a one-game suspension.

The Dallas Mavericks are calling it a joke.

Following the league's announcement Friday that Stackhouse must miss Game 5 of the finals for his hard foul on O'Neal in the third quarter of Game 4, the team's top three officials all lambasted the punishment.

"It makes no sense at all," owner Mark Cuban wrote in an e-mail. "There have been more 'accidental' elbows to Mavs players' heads this series than is statistically possible. (Wasn't it [Heat coach Pat] Riley who said that there is no such thing as an accidental elbow?) More stiff arms to faces of our double teams, all without response from the league."

Stackhouse was called for a flagrant foul when it happened. But after reviewing the play and discussing the details with both players, league vice president Stu Jackson opted to upgrade the punishment.

"The contact by Jerry Stackhouse was clearly excessive and warrants a suspension," Jackson said in a release.

The series is tied 2-2, with the Heat having won the last two games. Game 5 is Sunday night in Miami.

Before the league's decision, Dallas coach Avery Johnson said he didn't think the blow deserved a suspension, noting that O'Neal wasn't penalized for hitting Stackhouse hard enough in Game 1 that he opened a gash across the top of his nose that required three stitches to close.

Once the announcement was made, Johnson called it "ridiculous" -- among other terms.

"It's just a bunch of baloney," he said on his weekly radio show with Dallas' 103.3 ESPN. "For lack of a better word, it's sickening. Our fans should be upset, our players will be."

Donnie Nelson, the team's president of basketball operations, called it "a low blow, especially at this critical time."

"We're really surprised and appalled," he said. "The timing of it is the most unfortunate part. This is a bitter pill."

Miami was leading 68-51 in the third quarter of Game 4 when Jason Williams stole the ball from Dallas' Josh Howard and drove to the other end of the court. A few steps beyond the foul line, Williams dished to O'Neal for a likely crowd-thrilling dunk but Stackhouse swooped in from the side, taking him down with a head-high shove.

"It was a hard foul," Stackhouse said after the game. "When Shaq is going to the basket, we want to try to make him go to the free throw line and earn it."

O'Neal did, making both foul shots. Given the ball back, the Heat got two more points to stretch their lead to 20 for the first time. They went on to win 98-74, leaving O'Neal in a playful mood, especially when asked about the foul by Stackhouse.

"My daughters tackle me harder when I come home," O'Neal said. "I'm one of the last players of the old school, and you know, you just have to take a hard foul like that and keep on moving. It actually felt pretty good to get hit like that. Thank you, Jerry. Appreciate it."

The Heat may really appreciate Stackhouse's absence from Game 5.

Stackhouse is Dallas' top reserve. He's averaging 13.8 points this postseason and 13.0 in the finals. He had 16 in Game 2, including 10 straight over the final 79 seconds of the first half that propelled the Mavericks to a victory.

This marks the third time this postseason a Dallas player has been suspended.

Jason Terry was lost for Game 6 of the second round against San Antonio for punching Spurs guard Michael Finley below the belt and center DJ Mbenga just completed a five-game suspension for running into the stands to aid Johnson's wife during the conference finals. Mbenga will return for Game 5.

"And that's six more fouls," Johnson noted.

An irate Johnson also told radio listeners O'Neal was being protected by the league, saying: "It's been around forever -- certain players get royal treatment, certain players don't."

Cuban touched on the same topic.

"Shaq creates more dangerous contact camping in the lane for 5 seconds trying to set an NBA finals record for charges taken by a center than Stack did trying to prevent a layup," Cuban wrote.

Johnson opened his show with a Cuban-like rant against the way the league has handled cases like this, later saying there is "no rebuttal, no trial and jury, just a judge."

"I've been holding my tongue all year about the foolishness, just the foolishness that goes on there," said Johnson, who was voted the NBA coach of the year in his first full season.

"They're so inconsistent. I'm just embarrassed to have to deal with some of the things I have to deal with. ... We are in a position where we have no authority and we're always reminded of that -- we're just coaches."

Asked whether he feared the Mavericks are being targeted because of how vocal Cuban is with barbs toward the league, Johnson said, "I would sure hope not."

"If there is some truth to that, I hope certain people can't even look themselves in the mirror because that's a disgrace," he said.

Losing Stackhouse will be damaging, though not devastating to the Mavericks, whose bench is among the league's deepest. Stackhouse, however, gives Dallas an intensity that Johnson feels
has been missing for two games.

Johnson, ever mindful of sending his team the right message,
dismissed the idea that the Mavericks were matching Miami's
physical toughness.

"No, it's been one-sided," he said. "It's not with the team
from Texas."

Of all Dallas' problems, Dwyane Wade is at the top of the list. In fact, Miami's 24-year-old shooting star might be Nos. 1 through 5.

Doing almost anything he's pleased with the ball in his hands, Wade has blistered the Mavericks for 78 points in the past two games, getting 36 in Game 4 on a sore left knee that will be closer to 100 percent by Sunday.

Riley has been impressed by the way Wade has adapted to the
various defenses the Mavericks have thrown at him.

"He had two difficult games in Dallas," Riley said of Wade, a
combined 17-of-44 in Games 1 and 2. "He was driving incessantly to
the rim, getting a lot of layups and I thought he was going at 100
miles per hour or faster.

"He had to slow down, relax and see the game better and I think
he's done that," he said. "I think he's just taken a good look at
the game and not rushing things."

Johnson's in a hurry to figure out how to stop Wade from
slashing, scoring, falling, getting up and doing it all again.
Wade's averaging 32.3 points and at least a handful of jaw-dropping
moments per game in the series.

"When we've tried to contain him one-on-one, he's gotten around
us," Johnson said, his high-pitched voice rising. "When we've
tried to quick trap him, he split the quick traps. When we've tried
to slow trap him, he's spun out.

"So I'm just going to try to come up with another type of
defense, or maybe at some point, somebody will get angry enough on
our team and we'll guard him a little bit stronger and not let him
split the trap.

"And we've zoned him, too," he said. "That didn't go well,