INDIANAPOLIS -- Dwight Howard isn't worried about getting another suspension for drawing too many technical fouls.
The Orlando center already has missed a game for accumulating too many, and two more will cost him a game during the regular-season stretch run. Howard insists he'll be the "same guy" as the playoffs approach -- meaning he'll continue to hold animated conversations with officials when he feels he's been wronged.
"Somebody fouls, and after the foul they continue to foul me," Howard said before a game in New York. "I get upset at the refs because they allow it to happen, so my teammates are trying to do a better job of coming to console me so I won't say anything else."
Playoff seeding, and even playoff berths, could be dramatically affected by a wrong word, a shove or an errant elbow in the heat of the moment. The NBA's rule regarding technical fouls has come into play as teams jockey for postseason position.
If a player reaches 16, it's a one-game suspension, with additional suspensions for every two technicals thereafter for the rest of the regular season.
Howard, New York's Amare Stoudemire and Charlotte's Stephen Jackson, all the leading scorers for their teams, are dangerously close to missing a game during the crucial final games of the regular season. Orlando is in fourth place in the East and within reach of Miami for the Atlantic Division title. New York and Philadelphia are battling for the No. 6 position in the East, and Charlotte is chasing Indiana for the No. 8 spot in the conference.
Homecourt advantage in the playoffs is determined by a team's regular-season record. Even if a game doesn't affect conference seeding, it could determine whether a team gets homecourt advantage in the NBA Finals.
The possibility of missing a key game with so much at stake would seem to be enough to make even surly players try to mind their manners. Their pocketbooks, their reputations, their roles as team leaders are all theoretically at stake.
Howard leads the league with 16 technicals as of Friday. New York has a trio of players with double-digit technicals -- Stoudemire has 15, Carmelo Anthony has 13 and Chauncey Billups has 10. Anthony, in fact, averages a technical foul every 6.5 games over his career. Jackson has 14.
New York coach Mike D'Antoni knows Stoudemire must walk a tightrope, trying to avoid technicals while still playing with emotion.
"I think he'll handle himself, and if he can't, then we'll deal with whatever happens," D'Antoni said after Stoudemire drew his 15th back in February. "So I'm going to leave it at that. He's a guy that took us where we are, and I'm not going to go and scrutinize too much because he's a little bit too emotional and plays too hard."
Stoudemire received his 16th technical on March 10 against Dallas, but it was rescinded.
Jackson missed a game for Golden State in 2009 for drawing too many technicals. He feels his role in the infamous Pacers-Pistons brawl in 2004 is a significant factor in how he's treated by the referees. He has always spoken his mind and for the most part has been unapologetic for his behavior.
"I get techs because I want to," Jackson said recently. "I don't care. I'm not getting techs for no reason. It happens."
Jackson has been on his best behavior recently, staying at 14 technicals since Feb. 25.
"Jack, he does have to change, and I think he recognizes that now," Charlotte coach Paul Silas said after Jackson's 13th. "He just can't go after those guys. I know early on this year, they said the whole system changed as far as referee and what they were going to take. Even though you may not swear at them or whatever, if you continue to talk to them in a disrespectful manner, then they're going to have to do something about it."
Boston's Kevin Garnett has 11 technicals this season, though he trails only teammate Shaquille O'Neal among active players with 138 and draws one every 8.6 games. The Western Conference leader, Los Angeles' Kobe Bryant, has 12.
Howard tends to get rough treatment in the lane, and he's not shy about reacting. He was whistled for his 16th technical with 1:41 left in the first half on March 4 against Chicago, and the Magic lost the game he missed.
Van Gundy has attacked commissioner David Stern while defending his superstar.
"This is the system David Stern and his minions like," Van Gundy said after the suspension. "So that's the system you have. ... I certainly can't have an opinion because David Stern, like a lot of leaders we've seen in this world lately, don't really tolerate other people's opinion or free speech or anything. So I'm not really allowed to have an opinion. So it's up to him.
"He decides, and he likes the system he has."
Stern responded strongly to Van Gundy, but didn't fine him.
"It didn't bother me personally," Stern said on ESPN Radio. "I see somebody whose team isn't performing, whose star player was suspended, who seems to be fraying."
Stoudemire is the closest to a suspension.
"He knows he's at the limit now, so there's no turning back now," D'Antoni said. "But if I'm not mistaken, that's a man out there. He knows. He'll do what he's got to do."