Spurs coach Gregg Popovich criticized the NBA on Friday for warning Bruce Bowen about his defensive "tactics" and complained league officials are "trying to change the way my best defender plays."
NBA executive vice president of basketball operations Stu Jackson, who handles disciplinary matters for the league, called Bowen at home on Sunday night and told him he needed to watch his feet and give shooters room to land. If not, Jackson said, Bowen faced a possible fine or suspension.
Popovich said the league never informed Spurs officials of the conversation and he learned of it only after reading Wednesday's Express-News.
"They didn't bother to call the owner, the (general manager) or the coach," Popovich said. "No one. They're trying to change the way Bruce plays and we don't even know about it?
"Secondly, what they're telling him is highly inaccurate. It's unfounded and fueled by media pressure and player complaints."
New York guard Steve Francis sprained his left ankle after landing on Bowen's foot in a Nov. 6 game. When the teams met again four days later, Knicks coach Isiah Thomas threatened to break Bowen's foot after Jamal Crawford almost came down on him on a drive to the basket.
That incident led to a heated exchange between Popovich and Thomas, who was not reprimanded by the league for his actions.
League officials have been instructed to call a foul whenever a defender doesn't give a shooter enough room to land. Vince Carter sprained his ankle in the 2003-04 season after coming down on Bowen. Carter also accused him of purposefully stepping under him in another incident the next season.
Popovich said Bowen is being singled out, citing incidents where New Jersey's Richard Jefferson and Dallas' Josh Howard sprained ankles after landing on Miami's Shaquille O'Neal and Golden State's Mickael Pietrus.
"Did (the league) call them?" Popovich said. "Did they call all those guys (Dirk) Nowitzki landed on when he sprained his ankles the past three, four years? The answer is no.
"So why did they call Bruce? Because it's happened to him twice? Bruce guards an All-Star every night. If he was doing what they're accusing him of doing, wouldn't it have happened a higher percentage of times?
"The people who cry about it are just frustrated about having to go against Bruce."
Popovich is concerned Jackson's warning has taken away some of Bowen's aggressiveness. Houston's Tracy McGrady scored 21 first-half points — most of which came against Bowen — on Tuesday. After looking at film of Wednesday's loss to Charlotte, Popovich said Bowen sometimes wasn't within "5 feet" of rookie Adam Morrison.
"The league is just trying to cover its ass," Popovich said. "I told Bruce, 'You be Bruce Bowen. You're the best (expletive) defender in this league. You will NOT change the way you play defense.'
"Stu Jackson is not going to change my team just because he thinks he's doing the right thing."
Jackson declined comment except to say he discussed the issue with Spurs general manager R.C. Buford on Friday.
"We registered our disappointment and disagreement with the way it was handled," Popovich said.
Bowen said he took issue with Jackson saying he needed to change his "tactics."
"Tactics means I have a certain way I'm going about doing things and it's purpose-driven," Bowen said.
Bowen also plans to heed his coach's advice — even it puts him at risk of being fined.
"I've been given a command," he said, smiling. "So I'm going to keep playing hard."