James Harden and Chris Paul reignited a long-dormant controversy last week, accusing longtime NBA referee Scott Foster of harboring a personal vendetta against the Houston Rockets.

Foster, you may remember, was implicated in the mid-2000s gambling scandal that landed Tim Donaghy in jail for nearly a year. The disgraced former referee called Foster 134 times between October 2006 and April 2007, when Donaghy admitted to betting on games he was officiating. Given his past connection to Donaghy and poor reputation among players throughout the league, the comments from Harden and Paul concerning Foster led some fans to wonder if his fix was still in after all these years.

Likely in response to that discussion, the league office is going to extra efforts to ensure players and teams don't feel alienated by the officials as the 2018-19 season enters its final stretch:

“This is the dark ages of the season,” Michelle Johnson, the NBA’s senior vice president and head of referee operations, told The Associated Press. “Teams are shaping up where they stand and it matters more to some teams than others, and some coaches do tactical outbursts for the good of their teams. So even if we go to teams and they don’t have a lot of issues…we want to keep the dialogue open.”

Intensity is indeed ratcheting up. The Rockets' incendiary postgame remarks about Foster came after a nationally televised loss to the Los Angeles Lakers that carried playoff implications for both teams. There are races for postseason positioning at the top, bottom, and middle of each conference. Finally, the 82-game grind is about to pay off with the playoffs, and players and coaches are taking notice.

Any insistence from the league that referee representatives are reaching out for that reason more than the renewed scrutiny facing Foster, though, deserves a grain of salt. But big picture, fortunately, more open dialogue between the league's officials and its teams certainly couldn't hurt either way.