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Rules changes designed to reduce physical play and improve the flow of the game were approved Friday by the NBA's Board of Governors.

The changes, which didn't pass unanimously, will be in place for the start of exhibition games Oct. 10 and regular season games Nov. 2.

The changes include:

Tighter interpretation of foul rules, especially physical play away from the ball. A crackdown is expected on excessive banging in the low post and defenders clutching and grabbing to hinder an offensive player running through screens.

Prohibition on forearm checking, except below the free throw line, in what amounts to a total arms-off policy for defenders.

A 5-second rule limiting the amount of time an offensive player with his back to the basket can control the ball below the free throw line before he must pass, shoot or pick up his dribble. Previously, players could stay isolated and dribble down the shot clock -- a move favored by Houston's Charles Barkley and Indiana's Mark Jackson.

Resetting the shot clock to 14 seconds instead of 24 on certain stoppages of play -- personal fouls that do not result in free throws, kicked and punched balls and a team's first illegal defense violation.

An exemption from illegal defense rules for players positioned on the strong side of the court.

Approval was needed from 22 of the 29 teams. The league did not release the final vote, but an NBA source, speaking on condition he not be identified, said approval was not unanimous.

The hope is the changes will also increase scoring, which dropped to 91 points a game last season, lowest since the shot clock was introduced in 1954-55.

The changes were recommended in June by a special committee and implemented during summer league play, resulting in a dramatic increase in the number of fouls called.

Players and coaches complained that fouls were being called for the slightest contact.

Around the league

The NBA champion San Antonio Spurs absorbed a record $12 million loss last season, according to team officials. The Spurs want to leave the giant Alamodome for a new arena proposed for county land about two miles outside of the city center.

NBA owners unanimously approved the proposed merger of the business operations of the New York Yankees and New Jersey Nets. Major League Baseball officials are still studying the agreement between the two clubs, which would create a closely held company called YankeeNets.

The Orlando Magic signed forward Monty Williams and waived guard Tim Legler and forward Makhtar Ndiaye. Williams, a former first-round draft pick of the New York Knicks in 1994, appeared in only one game last season with the Denver Nuggets before being waived.

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