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Van Exel fined $10,000 for blasting officials

The league fined Los Angeles Lakers guard Nick Van Exel $10,000 Saturday for his remarks about the officiating in Miami's 98-97 victory over the Lakers on Friday night.

Van Exel, furious over a loose-ball foul call on Elden Campbell with 17 seconds left, criticized officials Tommy Nunez, Ronnie Nunn and Tommie Wood.

"I think it was more of a betting call," Van Exel said, after Campbell's basket was nullified and Willie Anderson converted two free throws, giving the Heat the victory.

"It was a tough call, but bad refs make bad calls, so you expect that from refs like that," Van Exel said. "If the FBI wants to investigate Fresno State (where there were point-shaving rumors this season), they ought to investigate these refs.

"Nunez and Ronnie Nunn. Well, we expect that from Ronnie Nunn."

Van Exel spoke by telephone Saturday with NBA vice president of security Horace Balmer and chief legal officer Jeffrey Mishkin. The fine was issued by senior vice president Rod Thorn.

"Van Exel has indicated that he realizes his comments were inappropriate and without any basis," the NBA said in a statement. "Van Exel has also issued a public apology for his comments."

"I'd like to apologize to Tommy Nunez, Ronnie Nunn, Tommie Wood, and the entire staff of NBA referees for the comments I made after last night's game," Van Exel said in a prepared statement. "What I said was wrong."

Van Exel is the second player to be fined $10,000 this season. Reggie Miller of the Indiana Pacers drew the fine for comments after a Nov.

14 game against Houston.

Lakers coach Del Harris refused to speak to the media after Friday's game.

After the first call on Campbell, Harris went halfway down the sideline to nearly midcourt to accost the officials. He pointed at Nunez, and Van Exel, who was suspended and fined last season for shoving a ref, had to pull the coach away.

STARKS SUSPENDED: The love-hate relationship between New York Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy and guard John Starks reached the penalty stage.

Van Gundy suspended Starks, the sixth man, for Saturday night's game at Milwaukee for what Van Gundy called a "disagreement" before Friday's practice. Starks was sent home before the workout and was told not to accompany the team on its one-game road trip.

Van Gundy was reluctant to discuss specifics except to say the two argued about "preparation, that's the bottom line."

But according to one teammate, Starks was upset after learning Friday that he had been fined for a previous undisclosed transgression. Starks disputed the fine, and once the argument intensified, Van Gundy advised Starks to leave. He added that Starks will be fined an undetermined amount of money for being suspended.

Starks, who will be in uniform for tonight's game against Portland at Madison Square Garden, was contacted at his Connecticut home but refused to answer questions.

"I'll talk Sunday," Starks said.

RACIST COMMENT: Several Heat players say they were offended by comments made by radio announcer Dave Halberstam during a game.

"When Thomas Jefferson was around, basketball was not invented yet, but those slaves working at Thomas Jefferson's farm, I'm sure they would have made good basketball players," Halberstam said during Wednesday night's game.

"I am offended," said Heat forward Keith Askins, who is black. "By someone making any comment like that, you have to wonder where it's coming from. I mean if you don't think that way, where did it come from? It's very touchy."

Halberstam apologized on the air before Friday's game.

HORNETS: Anthony Mason, the league leader in minutes played and a key cog in Charlotte's best start in franchise history, was placed on the injured list with a foot injury and could miss up to three weeks.

Mason limped off the floor in the third quarter of the Hornets' victory at Toronto on Friday night. An MRI exam confirmed Mason suffered a partial tear of his right plantar fascia _ a tendon running under the arch. It is similar to the injury that has sidelined Alonzo Mourning of the Miami Heat for the past month.

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