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Big3 could become hoops fans annual summer fling

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There was a time when the NBA almost went dormant during the summer. After the Finals ended in June there was the draft and a little rush in early July with free agency, but by the time Summer League started — back when it was at the Pyramid in Long Beach, Calif. — few fans cared or showed up, and the league was on a hiatus until fall. Baseball owned the summer.

Now the Summer League is in Las Vegas and selling out the Thomas & Mack center at nearly 20,000 people, plus the games are televised nationally. Interest in free agency is up as moves are analyzed online, and this summer throw in a Kyrie Irving trade request — plus some Carmelo Anthony drama — and the league never quieted down.

The appetite for hoops is robust even in the off-season — and that’s where the Big3 came in and got its foot in the door this summer.

The new league founded by Ice Cube and Jeff Kwatinetz brought some nostalgic names, some physical play, and some 3-on-3 basketball (with a four-point shot) to 10 arenas around the USA — and it worked. It exceeded expectations. The games were entertaining in person, the league averaged 11,000 people in the building every weekend, and Fox Sports was happy enough with the FS1 broadcasts (delayed a day) to pick up their option for the second season.

“In a lot of ways, it was definitely a ‘show me’ year,” Ice Cube told NBC Sports. “Some people actually told us they would wait to see how we did this year before they would want to be a part of it. We knew trying to introduce something this new would have people kind of taking a wait-and-see approach.

“But, at the same time, I know a good idea when I hear it.”

That idea caught on with players quickly — and they have spread the word to other former NBA players.

“People were trying to see if this was a joke or how serious it is, but now the retired players are seeing this game and they’re excited about what is taking place,” 11-year NBA veteran Mike James said. “So from this year to next year, you’re going to see more familiar names playing in this league, you’ll see more ex-superstars that played the game. And then you’ve got guys on their last leg in the NBA, they got something to look forward to.”

“What do we have to do to get players that people want to see to join the Big3?” Cube asks. “That’s our goal.”

The Big3 had stars, although the biggest names — Allen Iverson, Dr. J, Charles Oakley — largely coached. That may change in future seasons (and there will be future seasons). Lamar Odom attended the game in Los Angeles and expressed some interest. Paul Pierce’s name has come up, as has Tracy McGrady. I’m not sure if a Kobe Bryant-level star will suit up (maybe Kevin Garnett would), but guys just a couple of years out of the league might. Players such as Kenyon Martin and Al Harrington were singing the praises of playing in the league.

“One group I didn’t have any problem convincing (about 3-on-3 basketball) was the pros themselves,” said Roger Mason Jr., the former NBA player who is the Big3 commissioner. “The one thing I knew as a former NBA player is that 3-on-3 basketball was something that we played often during the season. A lot of times you didn’t have the guys, the bodies to play 5-on-5 (at practice) but 3-on-3 is something that we do, we compete at a high level and I knew those battles, which fans had never seen, if seen, had a high chance of success.”“As far as players, we feel if we build a great league they will come,” Cube said.

“As far as players, we feel if we build a great league they will come,” Cube said.

The games certainly were competitive — and that’s what the players said they loved.

“Just an opportunity to compete,” James said of why he came back. “When you leave the game, I know the thing I missed the most wasn’t the team camaraderie, it wasn’t any of those things, it was the competition. And here it is, guys that are not playing NBA basketball, but that don’t mean they necessarily aren’t playing basketball, and this gives us a stage to be able to showcase ourselves without going overseas, or going on another stage.”

There were some moments where you could tell these older players mentally knew what they wanted to do on the court but were no longer able to physically execute it the same way. However, they adjusted, and as the season wore on the level of play improved.

What many old-school fans — including Ice Cube himself — liked was the physical style of play. Some of the loudest cheers at the Los Angeles tour stop were when Oakley stepped on the court and was his old enforcer self (racking up fouls and a flagrant).

“I think what caught on with the Big3, more than the names, was the game. Was the style of how the Big 3 is played, which is a style that’s familiar to those of us who have been around sports for a minute,” Cube said. “It’s back-to-the-basket big boy basketball, so I think that is catching on as well because you can’t really see that style anymore in the NBA or in college. I think it’s a pleasing style of play… it’s how they play when they ball…

“I believe people are going to fall in love with Big3 basketball, and not necessarily for who plays but for how they play.”

Stars have always been what sold the NBA, and the challenge for the Big 3 is that often Cube was the biggest star in the building. The next step for the league is to bring in names that allow Cube to transition away from being the face of the league.

“I think time will do that,” Cube said. “As people see the Big3 come around each year with different players. Each of the players we have in this league has a fan base in their own right. Not everybody came to see Allen Iverson play, some people came to see Mike Bibby play. I think as we’re around, and guys start to come right off the NBA court onto the Big3 court, to me, inherently, the players you want to see will be in the Big3.”

The Big3 learned from its first year. It had a good fan experience at the game, but now they want to improve and grow it. Same for the television broadcast.

What will not change is the barnstorming style — one day of games each week, every Sunday, with all the stars and teams coming to one city and arena for a day of hoops.

“To me, that’s the model for success, to go from city to city to city and bring the Big3 to each arena where you can see a lot of your favorite players,” Cube said. “We understand the nostalgic factor in this and we don’t want to lose that by having two teams here and two teams there. To me going city to city is a great plan and we can go anywhere in the world, basically, and play. If you can envision what that can be in the years to come, it’s a lot of possibilities.”

There is space in the basketball calendar for a little summer fling and trip down memory lane. Fans who attended the Big3 in person who I spoke with thought it was worth it, and that word of mouth is how a league gets built.

“We are full of basketball history, and we respect basketball history, and we’re going to honor basketball history,” Cube said. “So anybody who wants to be around that is going to have a good time at the Big3.”

Stephen Curry loses bet to JaVale McGee, must wear fanny pack to three games

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Outside of a couple of college campuses and a handful of people in Las Vegas sports books, not a lot of people were paying attention to the Davidson vs. Nevada college basketball game Tuesday night.

Also, the Warriors’ locker room cared — Davidson alum Stephen Curry and Nevada alum JaVale McGee had a bet.

Nevada stayed undefeated with a comfortable 81-68 win.

So the fashion conscious Curry is going to have wear a fanny pack as he arrives — and his rival is always met with cameras — for three Warriors games this season. Well played JaVale, well played.

Curry, I think there are designer fanny packs…

FLORENCE, ITALY – MAY 29: A model walks the runway at the Gucci Cruise 2018 show at Palazzo Pitti on May 29, 2017 in Florence, Italy. (Photo by Pietro D’Aprano/Getty Images)

 

J.R. Smith on Celtics start: “We don’t start paying attention until after All-Star break”

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I’m not sure any LeBron James team can fly under the radar, but the Cavaliers have relatively quietly won five in a row. Most importantly, in those five games, Cleveland’s defense is 8.6 points per 100 possessions better than their season average (and eighth in the league in that stretch). The Cavaliers may be finding their groove.

Not that anyone is noticing because Boston has rattled off 16 wins in a row to have the best record in the NBA.

Hey, J.R. Smith, are the Cavaliers paying attention to Boston’s hot start? (Via Bleacher Report.)

“Nah,” JR Smith told B/R when asked if they’re paying attention to the league-leading Celtics. “It’s too early. Too early. We don’t start paying attention until after All-Star break when you see teams spacing out (in the standings). You start getting your best shot after the All-Star break.”

Cleveland, even after the win streak, is 5.5 games back of the Celtics. While it’s too early to say anything with certainty, much like last season it seems probable that Boston will be the No. 1 seed and the Cavaliers will need to go on the road to secure another trip to the Finals. Which is just fine with the Cavs if they can be healthy and rested when the postseason rolls around.

Healthy means getting LeBron a little more rest at some point — he leads the NBA in minutes played at 37.9 per game, and he’s in his 15th season. He’s played more regular season games than Michael Jordan. At some point, the Cavaliers need to get him some rest.

But LeBron said postgame he’s not playing the hard minutes, yet.

“Are all 40-minute (games) created equal?” James repeated.

Dwyane Wade elaborated: “If you play 40 minutes and you’re banging around, or you play 40 minutes, an easy up-and-down? You still play 40 but it’s different.”

James: “Forty minutes in a playoff game and 40 in a regular-season game is totally different. For me and him, we don’t just sit on the perimeter. We’re slashing.”

Bucks’ Mirza Teletovic out 4 weeks; Henson to miss Suns game

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Injuries are thinning the Milwaukee Bucks’ frontcourt as they begin a Western Conference road trip.

The team says forward Mirza Teletovic is expected to miss four weeks following arthroscopic surgery on Tuesday to repair cartilage in his left knee. He has missed the last six games.

The 6-foot-9 Teletovic is a key player off the bench for Milwaukee. He is averaging 7.1 points in 10 games this season, shooting 46 percent from 3-point range.

The Bucks also say starting center John Henson will miss Wednesday night’s game in Phoenix after what they call a “successful eye procedure.”

Henson is expected to rejoin the Bucks before Saturday’s game at Utah. He is averaging 6.7 points and 6.6 rebounds.

Guard Matthew Dellavedova also remains out with left knee tendinitis.

Three Things to Know: If playoffs started today Lakers would be the eight seed

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) After beating Bulls, if playoffs started today Lakers would be the eight seed. The Lakers have been better than advertised this young season… but a playoff team?

Yes. If the playoffs started today, the Lakers would be the eighth seed.

While everyone seems to focus on Lonzo Ball’s lack of a jumper (he was 3-of-13 Tuesday, 2-of-8 from three), the Lakers have produced the fourth-best defense in the NBA, allowing just 100.3 points per 100 possessions. It’s a shocking improvement from the team with the worst defense in the NBA last season, they are allowing 10.3 points fewer per 100 possessions than a season ago. Los Angeles runs out a long, athletic lineup with a well-positioned backstop big in Brook Lopez in the paint. Maybe fourth in the NBA is not sustainable (teams are shooting just 31.9 percent from three against L.A., and that’s not so much defense as luck), but the Lakers are improved defensively.

That defense keeps the Lakers in games, then thanks to flurries from an inconsistent offense the Lakers 8-10 to start the season after knocking off the Chicago Bulls 103-94. Chicago led by 19 in the second and early third, but the Lakers rallied behind Julius Randle and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

The Western Conference that was expected to be so deep going into the season is watching good teams stumble (Oklahoma City) and other teams struggle with injuries (Memphis, Utah, L.A. Clippers). It has opened the door for now, and the Lakers have stepped in. Or, at least not fallen out.

I still don’t expect the Lakers in the postseason when we get to April, and their young core is still a work in progress, but this start is a big boost to the confidence of the team. It’s a step in the direction they want to go.

2) Denver loses Paul Millsap for three months due to wrist surgery. Last season, Denver had one of the worst defenses in the NBA. This season they are middle of the pack — a substantial improvement. Paul Millsap is a big part of that, the Nuggets have been 4.5 points per 100 possessions better when Millsap has been on the court this season.

Which is why it’s going to hurt so much that he is out to have wrist surgery, he is out three months or so (think return after the All-Star Game).

Millsap inked a team-friendly three-year, $90 million contract with Denver over the summer (the third season is not guaranteed). He is averaging 15.3 points and 6.2 rebounds a game, numbers are down a little from previous years (as were his shots as he adjusted), but things have looked up lately. Millsap seemed to be finding a groove during the recent streak when Denver won 4-of-5. He and the Nuggets were figuring out how to play together. Now that is on hold, and Denver goes from a team that looked like a playoff lock in the West to one to watch. Injuries are shaping the West playoff race right now in a massive way.

3) Worst. Free throw. Ever. This was on Shaqtin’ last week, but it is too good not to post, in case you haven’t seen it.

"This is the worst free throw of all-time!" 😂 Shaq goes overseas for Week 5's #Shaqtin winner 🏆

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