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LeBron James says referees 'protect the shooter more than the driver'

For years, we’ve heard that LeBron James size and strength as a wing player poses a problem of sorts for NBA referees: What looks like a foul against mere mortals can seem more like a gnat against James.

But James offered up a new reason for his decline in free throws generally and his Cleveland Cavaliers’ 110-94 loss Sunday to the San Antonio Spurs specifically. He suggested that, the way the NBA is officiated these days, jump shooters are “protected” by foul calls more than players who drive the ball to the basket.

This flies in the face of one of the game’s great truisms, embraced from the NBA down to YMCA youth leagues: Referees reward aggressive play.

But that is James’ current theory and he was sticking to it Sunday. Teammate Tristan Thompson, meanwhile, tilted more toward another explanation in a report by Joe Vardon:

“There’s no reason I should be going to the line four times in a game when I drive 100 times to the paint and I’m getting hit and slapped and grabbed and whatever and what not,” James said Sunday, after the Cavs lost to the Spurs 110-94. “We protect the shooter. That’s what it’s turned into. Chicks dig the long ball and that’s what it’s about.”

James shot four free throws Sunday and took 25 shots from the field. The Spurs took 32 free throws (and made 25), while the Cavs were 10-of-14 from the line. San Antonio was called for three fouls in the second half.

James’ 6.1 foul shots per game are the lowest since his rookie season. Forty percent of all James’ field-goal attempts have come from inside three feet. For as much as he drives, he feels he should be getting more foul calls.

“He attacks the rim a lot so it’s up to the ref. It’s on them to make the calls,” Tristan Thompson said. “I think with him being so strong and athletic, just because he’s bigger and stronger than everyone, doesn’t mean it doesn’t mean a foul. I think he gets fouled more than anyone in this league and he gets hit but people kind of take advantage of the fact that he’s 280 and he’s a freight train.”

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