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NBA sees hopeful numbers in first year of new TV deal

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In the first season of a massive new $24 billion television contract, the NBA saw its combined domestic ratings for all networks stay even when compared to last season.

For Bill Koenig, the league’s president of global media distribution, that qualifies as a victory.

Long immune to the ratings tumbles that have plagued other television shows in the era of DVRs and cord-cutting, some sports leagues saw their viewership numbers dip in part because of a bombastic presidential election cycle. The NBA opened its season going head-to-head with a historic World Series matchup between the Cubs and Indians, but has emerged with what Koenig considers encouraging signs as the playoffs begin next week.

The combined U.S. ratings held firm at 0.8 for the season while the league had a 3 percent rise in unique viewers and a 6 percent increase in the total hours of game action fans have watched in a season, according to the NBA. Also, 19 more games were broadcast nationally.

“I think our game is very attractive to the younger, more technologically savvy, multicultural fan. Those numbers are growing over time,” Koenig said in a phone interview. “I also think there is a real emphasis here of promoting our game through traditional means, buying advertising, but also through social media.”

Koenig was at the forefront of negotiations for the record-breaking contract with Turner and ESPN/ABC that flooded the league with revenue this season. If the sheer size of the deal put more pressure on the NBA to deliver big ratings, Koenig isn’t telling.

“We worked with our network partners to drive tune-in, to make a compelling schedule and to use our digital and social media in ways that are an advantage for us,” Koenig said. “I wouldn’t say it’s any more important this year than it was in years past, but as time goes on we have more in our arsenal to help drive viewership.”

The NBA leads all U.S. sports leagues with 1.3 billion combined followers on social media and is feeding the appetite for content.

With the 19 additional national television games, fans have watched 37 million more hours of game action, the league said. The Christmas Day game between Cleveland and Golden State was the most viewed early game in ABC’s history, opening night on TNT was up 8 percent and the most-viewed curtain-raiser since 2013 and the Warriors-Cavaliers rematch on Martin Luther King Jr. Day was the most-viewed regular season game since 2013.

That contrasts with the NFL, which saw its ratings decline by 8 percent last season, while marquee games on Sunday and Monday nights were down 12 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

Compelling story lines including Russell Westbrook‘s pursuit of averaging a triple-double through an entire season, LeBron James‘ title defense in Cleveland, Kevin Durant‘s move to Golden State and James Harden‘s renaissance in Houston have helped drive interest.

In the second half of the season, the issue of resting star players has come to the forefront. Television partners have expressed concern when healthy stars sit out of nationally televised games. It will be a topic this week when the owners convene in New York for the Board of Governors meetings.

“I’ve been in touch with our national and regional telecasters on this issue. It’s something that’s very important,” Koenig said. “Obviously, the basketball people with our teams and our league are very involved in this process, too. We’re going to discuss it and try and come up with measures that we think will address the issue in a way that serves the various interests that we’re trying to serve.”

There will be discussions about streamlining replays and timeouts in an effort to make the game more “free-flowing” and enjoyable to watch, Koenig said. He did not anticipate any changes for next season, but the league has already installed clocks in arenas to try and keep timeouts from dragging too long. Broadcasters are starting to sprinkle advertising in during free throws and other slower times to try to avoid the full commercial breaks that can lead viewers to change the channel.

“We understand the importance of pure competition. We don’t want to do anything that will negatively impact that,” Koenig said. “I think that the basketball side understands the business reality and the importance of what we’re trying to do and we’re both working toward the same end.”

The television contract lasts another eight years, and Koenig’s work is hardly finished. The league is constantly experimenting with its presentation, exploring virtual reality, different camera angles for mobile viewers and other ways to appeal to a changing audience.

“We can’t rest on our laurels,” he said. “We want to evolve. We want to create something that is more compelling for today’s viewer and tomorrow’s viewer.”

This story has been clarified to show that the Warriors-Cavaliers game on MLK Day was TNT’s highest-rated regular season game since 2013, not just its highest-rated MLK Day game.

Referees misattribute comment to Dwane Casey, incorrectly eject Raptors coach (VIDEO)

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Things sort of fell apart at the end of Sunday’s game between the Toronto Raptors and the Oklahoma City Thunder. It all started with about a minute left in the game when Serge Ibaka tackled Steven Adams.

No, really.

As Paul George finished the second of two free throws, Ibaka and Adams began to battle for the possible rebound. Adams gave Ibaka the slip off the lane line, and as a recovery move Ibaka tackled his former teammate on the baseline.

Via Twitter:

Then, with 30 seconds left and a chance to tie, DeMar DeRozan drove the lane and missed a shot near the rim while being defended by Corey Brewer.

DeRozan felt he was fouled, and quickly let the officials know about it. The Raptors star could be seen going after ref Marc Davis. Shortly thereafter, DeRozan was given a technical foul.

Via Twitter:

But it didn’t stop there.

A few seconds later, as the game wound down, DeRozan went after the referees again. He was given a second technical, and ejected along with teammate Serge Ibaka.

Then came Raptors coach Dwane Casey.

With fans in the Air Canada Centre chanting at referees, and with tensions high, the officiating crew mistakenly attributed a comment made by a fan or someone else on the Toronto bench to Casey. They decided to eject Casey with just eight seconds left, despite the coach not being the person who actually spoke to the referees.

Kyle Lowry couldn’t believe it, and even Brewer had a good laugh about that one.

The NBA is going to have some explaining to do on that one. Officiating is still under fire in the NBA, with New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry being the most recent coach to go off about the grey shirts.

I’m going to set a few alarms for when they release the L2M report Monday morning.

Meanwhile, the Thunder beat the Raptors, 132-125.

Oh, and the referees had to leave the floor in Toronto with a security detail.

Alvin Gentry on refs after controversial James Harden foul: “You can’t guess on plays”

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Alvin Gentry was heated after the New Orleans Pelicans lost to the Houston Rockets on Saturday night, all thanks to a late foul on James Harden. Oh boy.

Gentry was given a technical foul after speaking with officials with 5:39 to go in the fourth quarter in a tight matchup between the two Western Conference playoff teams. The Pelicans coach was heated about a foul called on Jrue Holiday after Harden swung through the defender’s area to get free throws on a 3-point attempt.

That didn’t sit right with Gentry, who went after referee David Guthrie. After complaining for some time, Gentry got a handle on himself and went back to his seat on the bench. That’s when he was called for a technical foul.

Here’s the play in question, and Gentry’s response after the game:

Gentry does have a general point, and sounds like just about any non-Houston fan you overhear at games or in bars regarding Harden’s wacky inflatable flailing arm tube man style. Nevermind his driving — which consistently gets players to legitimately hack away at his arms — the question on the play in New Orleans is whether the defender has a right to that space, and whether Holiday made a move.

Pelicans broadcaster David Wesley pointed out that if a defender is in his own defensive space and not moving, it shouldn’t be a foul if the offensive player jams his way into the defender’s arms. That’s part of why the idea of verticality works for modern NBA big men defending the rim.

Offensive players are getting more astute at drawing contact, then finding a way to immediately get fouled after the contact. It’s something that will need to be addressed by the NBA in coming seasons, as there are quite a few instances of contact specifically being drawn by an offender by moving into the defender’s space and drawing contact with their arms.

However, on the play in question, if you rewind it enough times you can barely see Holiday’s arm and elbow flex reactively before Harden moves the ball up. Thus, in the purview of instant replay, it was probably a foul.

Here it is in super slo-mo:

Gentry is likely to get a nice big fine as others have this season for criticizing officials. It seems that even after the All-Star Break meeting to sort out some issues between the NBPA and NBRA not everyone is happy.

Expect a bigger overhaul and more announcements regarding NBA refereeing in the offseason.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue sits out second half Saturday with illness

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CHICAGO (AP) Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue remained in the locker room to start the second half of their game against the Chicago Bulls because of an illness.

Lue was on the sideline as the Cavaliers used a strong second quarter to build a 17-point halftime lead. He did not come out for the start of the third Saturday night, and he did not return to the game.

Lue has missed one other game this season due to illness. He is expected back on Monday when the Cavs host the struggling Bucks.

The Cavaliers went on to get the win over the Bulls Saturday, 114-109.

Grizzlies snap 19-game skid with 101-94 win vs Nuggets

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Dillon Brooks scored 24 points, Tyreke Evans added 20 and the Memphis Grizzlies snapped a 19-game losing streak with a 101-94 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night.

Wayne Selden scored 16 points for Memphis by hitting 6 of 7 shots, including 4 of 5 from outside the arc. Marc Gasol added 14 points as Memphis won for the first time since Jan. 29.

Nikola Jokic led the Nuggets with 17 points and 12 rebounds, while Jamal Murray finished with 16 points on 5-of-18 shooting. Denver shot just 37 percent overall and 27 percent from 3-point range.

Denver entered the night in ninth place in the Western Conference, a game out of the playoff race. Denver played without leading scorer Gary Harris, who is expected to miss the next few games with a right knee sprain suffered against Detroit on Thursday.

The Nuggets struggled through a miserable first half of shooting, connecting on 22 percent in the first quarter. Memphis stretched its lead to 21 early in the second quarter before Denver cut it to 53-48 at halftime.

Brooks hit four 3-pointers to start the second half and keep Memphis ahead.

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