By Paul Newberry
ATLANTA - Leave it to the Hawks.
The franchise that took a chance on Isaiah Rider, once made a ridiculous playoff guarantee and is still trying to sort out an embarrassing court battle for ownership of the team has a new entry for its hall of shame.
A doubleheader loss Friday.
Well, it wasn't actually two losses. But Atlanta did have a win snatched away by commissioner David Stern in the afternoon, then dropped one on the court to the Washington Wizards - in overtime, no less - before the day was done.
So, after waking up with a .500 record, the Hawks went to bed two games under (15-17).
"It's always something with the Hawks," Atlanta's Tyronn Lue moaned.
Let's start with Stern's ruling.
The commissioner ruled that Atlanta must replay the final 51.9 seconds of its Dec. 19 game against the Miami Heat because the official scorers ruled incorrectly that Shaquille O'Neal fouled out.
The Hawks left the court with an apparent 117-111 victory, but strike that one from the books - at least until the March 8 replay, when the teams will finish one game before taking the court for their regularly scheduled contest.
Play will start from the point after O'Neal's disputed sixth foul, with the Hawks leading 114-111.
Atlanta was clearly caught off guard by Stern's harsh ruling, which including a $50,000 fine for being "grossly negligent."
"We're human. We make mistakes," co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. said. "There certainly wasn't anything malicious about it. We have one of the most senior scoring staffs in the league. They're good. It happened. There's not much we can do about it."
Now, for the nightcap: Atlanta squandered a chance to get back to .500 by losing 102-98 to the Wizards.
Antawn Jamison scored 22 points and Caron Butler added 21 to lead Washington. Josh Smith had 35 points for Atlanta, but it wasn't enough to overcome the team's dismal 12-for-22 showing at the foul line.
Washington made the Hawks pay, knocking down 22 of 24 free throws, including six straight in the final 16 seconds of OT to seal the win.
The Heat, having a terrible season, will take any help they can get. They started the day 8-28, improved to 8-27 for a few hours, then slipped back to 8-28 with a 114-88 loss to the Hornets in New Orleans.
"I can wake up tomorrow knowing there's one less loss," Miami coach Pat Riley quipped.
The replay is the first granted by the NBA since December 1982. Then-commissioner Larry O'Brien upheld a protest by the San Antonio Spurs after their 137-132 double-overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers the previous month.
O'Brien ruled that the wrong call was made at the end of regulation on a double-lane violation, which allowed Los Angeles to score the tying basket. The teams finally finished their game in April 1983, with San Antonio holding on for a 117-114 victory.
Hawks spokesman Arthur Triche said no one on the stat crew had been replaced, but changes have been made in the way they operate. Two people run the official book at courtside, while the four-person computer stat crew is 26 rows above the court in another press location. The two crews are supposed to check with each other if any discrepancies come up.
The mistake stemmed from a foul with 3:24 remaining in the fourth quarter that was called on Udonis Haslem, but was mistakenly credited to O'Neal at the scoring table.
Stern ruled the Hawks "failed to follow league-mandated scoring procedures and failed to respond effectively when the members of the statisticians' crew noticed the mistake."
The ruling could have a profound impact on Atlanta's hopes of making the playoffs for the first time since 1999. They still hold the eighth - and final - spot in the East, but just imagine if they lose the replay, then miss the playoffs by one game.
"Bottom line is we're here to try to make the playoffs," coach Mike Woodson said. "You've got to live with it. We'll face those 51 seconds in March."
It didn't help that Atlanta was involved in another statistical mishap just last season.
On Nov. 24, 2006, the official scorer failed to credit Toronto's T.J. Ford with a basket that would have given the Raptors a late tie and an opportunity to change the outcome of a 97-93 loss.
"Because of this conduct by Atlanta's personnel, Miami suffered a clear competitive disadvantage, as O'Neal - the Heat's second-leading scorer and rebounder that night - was removed from a one-point game with only 51.9 seconds remaining," the NBA statement said.
On the NBA's official Web site, those final 51 seconds have already been wiped from the books. The Dec. 19 schedule shows 12 games as finals, but the one in Atlanta is still in progress. The box score and play-by-play are on hold.
Al Horford hit two free throws after O'Neal's foul to put the Hawks up 114-111. That's where the game will resume.
Leave it to the Hawks.