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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.

Cavaliers’ Tristan Thompson out vs. Celtics, ends consecutive game streak at 447

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Tristan Thompson has been the NBA’s current iron man, he doesn’t miss games. Tuesday night, during the third quarter against the Magic, he suffered a thumb injury and came out, had it taped up, and went back in to help the Cavs finish off the win. Postgame X-rays were negative.

However, he did not travel with the team to Boston and will not play against the Celtics, the team announced.

That ends Thompson’s consecutive game streak at 447, the longest active one in the NBA.

He will not play against the Hawks on Friday, either, and will have an MRI on the injury. Expect coach Tyronn Lue to prioritize Thompson’s health heading into the playoffs. The Cavaliers recalled big man Larry Sanders from the D-League Wednesday morning, he could now get a little run.

Consider this also another reason that the Celtics/Cavaliers showdown is not a good barometer of a potential playoff meeting.

The all-time NBA consecutive games streak belongs to A.C. Green at 1,192, the equivalent of 14.5 seasons.

LeBron James, Isaiah Thomas try to play down importance of Cavaliers vs. Celtics

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Heading into Wednesday night’s showdown, Boston and Cleveland are tied with identical 50-27 records.

The winner of Wednesday night’s game will have the pole position to get the No. 1 seed in the East. It also can be a statement game for both teams. Boston wins and it gains confidence it could beat Cleveland in a playoff showdown, the Celtics can say they are a legit threat to come out of the East. For Cleveland, win and they show their slump is behind them and they are ready to claim their rightful spot as the clear best team in the conference.

Just don’t tell LeBron James or Isaiah Thomas that.

Here’s Thomas, via A. Sherrod Blakely at CSNNE.com.

“No. Not for me,” said Thomas when asked if the game felt any different being the No. 1 seed. “It’s just another game; I think we have to treat it like that. Being number one in the standings, I don’t feel different, treat it like another game.”

Here’s what LeBron said, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“I don’t know, I’ve played in a lot of big games,” James said… “I don’t … I’m the last person to ask about a big game in the regular season. I’m sorry.”

No, the outcome of this game will not tell us what happens in a seven-game series. For one, Cleveland is on the second night of a back-to-back. However, more than that teams don’t have the time to drill down on film, modify game plans and sets, and generally prepare for a team the way they do in the playoffs. The postseason is a different animal.

The outcome of this game may not even tell us who gets the top seed — Cleveland has a tougher schedule the rest of the way, and coach Tyronn Lue has talked about resting guys heading into the playoffs. Things are still in flux.

But it still matters — this game will give the winner some confidence going into the playoffs. And that matters.

Dennis Rodman on what makes the Warriors work: “Klay Thompson makes that team”

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The general consensus goes something like this; Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant are the best Warriors’ players, 1 and 1A in whatever order you want, however, Draymond Green is the most important because his defensive versatility lets them play small and still defend at an elite level.

Hall of Dennis Rodman sees things differently.

Rodman sees everything differently, sometimes seemingly through a haze. But he was on CBSSports.com’s “Reiter Than You” with Bill Reiter and was saying some odd stuff (hat tip James Herbert of Eye on Basketball):

“You know what, Steph Curry has took a step back,” Rodman said. “And it’s cool. It’s actually cool because if you see his game now, I always said with that Golden State team, I always say one thing: that one player is the player right there that makes that team. Who is that player?…

“That is right there: Thompson,” Rodman said. “That kid right there is good. If he went to another team, he’d suck. What I’m saying is that Klay Thompson makes that team. Everybody’s always worried about Curry. I know Curry’s dad and all that bulls—. But Klay Thompson makes that team. It ain’t Green, that guy, no. It’s Klay Thompson.”

There’s a lot or rambling and nonsense to unpack there. Starting with, Stephen Curry himself will have none of Rodman’s “step back” ideas. Curry called the idea “comical,” which seems fitting here. Curry is having a fantastic season, one that could get him a few bottom of the ballot MVP votes, it’s just not the superhuman year he had last year.

Also, “if he went to another team, he’d suck?” He means Thompson? Um, no. Is he saying the ability to shoot the ball will not translate to another team? Yes, Thompson gets better looks with Golden State because of the gravity of Curry/Durant drawing defenders, but I can guarantee you 29 other teams would be willing to test the “Thompson sucks outside Golden State” theory.

I tend to buy the “Green is most important to the team” theory because while we all talk about the Warriors offense they have the second best defense in the NBA this season (and it’s been at the top for a few years), and that all starts with Green. He’s a Defensive Player of the Year candidate for a reason.

That’s not to sell Thompson short, Golden State isn’t quite the same without any of the big four. No shooter on that team can get as hot for a short stretch (a quarter, a game) as Thompson. But the rest of it is just Rodman being Rodman.

Shaq let loose in Lip Sync Battle with Jimmy Fallon on Tonight Show (VIDEO)

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Admit it — Shaq dances better than you.

Also, he knows Pitbull and you don’t.

Which made Shaquille O’Neal doing a lip sync battle against (and with) the host of the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon this week a lot of fun. Shaq clearly enjoyed it — it’s not like getting your own statue cool, but it’s cool.