PBT Second-Round Playoff Preview: Washington Wizards vs. Atlanta Hawks

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SEASON RECORDS

Washington Wizards: 46-36

Atlanta Hawks: 60-22

KEY INJURIES

None.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possessions)

Washington Wizards: Offense 101.8 (19th in NBA), Defense 100.0 (5th in NBA)

Atlanta Hawks: Offense 106.2 (6th in NBA), Defense 100.7 (7th in NBA)

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

1. Which Wizards? During the regular season, Washington couldn’t beat the Hawks, and dropped all three meetings where both teams were at full strength. Both teams have looked markedly different in the first round of the postseason, however, especially the Wizards.

Washington is the number one team in offensive efficiency after one round of the playoffs, outpacing even the mighty Golden State Warriors by scoring at a rate of 112.5 points per 100 possessions. And, the Wizards are second in defensive efficiency in the postseason behind only the Chicago Bulls, who faced an anemic Bucks team that was near the bottom of the league offensively during the regular season.

The playoff Wizards are very different than the team we saw for the bulk of the regular season, and if we see that version in round two, things could be very difficult for the top-seeded Hawks.

2. Are the Hawks back? For five-and-a-half of the six games Atlanta needed to eliminate the Nets in the first round, the Hawks rarely displayed the kind of offensive prowess that allowed them to win 60 games during the regular season. Atlanta finally regained its edge in Game 6, with the starting unit rolling offensively in both the first and third quarters, and finally looking like the club that won 40 of its first 48 games of the season.

The problem with Atlanta was its reserve unit, which the Nets were able to exploit consistently throughout the series. Dennis Schröder was largely awful in trying to run the team when Jeff Teague needed to rest, Kent Bazemore couldn’t shoot, and Mike Scott and Pero Antic weren’t great defensively. The Hawks will need strong, cohesive performances from their starters in this series (like the one they put together in closing out the Nets) in order to stay with what’s become a very good Wizards team.

3. Kyle Korver: It’s no secret that Korver is a devastating threat for the Hawks offensively. He shoots the ball at an extremely high percentage, and can run a defense ragged in trying to account for him on every possession. Washington needs to stay home defending Korver, and never (never!) help off of him, because Atlanta finds him seemingly every time he’s left open for even a second.

Washington’s ability to slow the Hawks starts with shutting down Jeff Teague at the point of attack, which John Wall should be capable of doing at times. But once the ball gets moving and the cutters start diving to the basket, the rest of Washington’s team defense needs to account for everyone, while Korver’s man stays glued to him at all times.

PREDICTION

I’m not convinced Atlanta can consistently carve up Washington the way they did the Nets, and I’m choosing to believe that the playoff Wizards will return for at least one more round.

Wizards in 6.

Adam Silver acknowledges ratings drop as NBA tries to connect young viewers to broadcasts

NBA commissioner Adam Silver
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One of the NBA’s great strengths is its core audience is younger than the other major American sports.

One of the NBA’s great challenges is its core audience is younger than the other major American sports.

That means a lot of NBA fans are cord cutters — or, never had a cord to begin with — and don’t consume their entertainment the way their parents and grandparents did. Much the way we do a poor job measuring the economy by doing it the same way we did a century ago, using traditional Neilson rating measures is a poor way to judge the number of eyeballs on a game. Viewership is evolving.

But make no mistake, traditional ratings are down for the NBA, both nationally and at the regional level. Nationwide ratings are down by 12 percent, including 13 percent on TNT and 16 percent on ABC. Only three NBA teams — the Utah Jazz, Memphis Grizzlies, and Toronto Raptors — have seen a local ratings increase this season, the other 27 teams are flat or down, according to the Sports Business Journal — and down by 13 percent.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver owned the drop during All-Star weekend. He added that while the league could blame injuries to players that would be draws  — Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson with the Warriors, Zion Williamson with the Pelicans, Kevin Durant in Brooklyn, etc. — the bigger issue is connecting those younger viewers to NBA broadcasts.

“It’s well-known that on one hand we’re celebrated by some because we have such a young fan base, but that young fan base is disconnecting from pay television in record numbers, and by disconnecting, not just simply not subscribing to cable or so-called cutting the cord, they’re not watching traditional paid television the way they used to,” Silver said during his All-Star weekend press conference. “They’re watching over-the-top streaming services. They’re watching screens, but it’s not essentially pay TV.

“So the good news for the league is that, when we look at all other data points, particularly what we see in social media, what we see in terms of distribution of highlights and general chatter around our games, we’ve never been more popular. But we haven’t found a way to connect those young fans to our broadcast through whatever platform they’re going to be delivered.

“Again, I think it’s a very solvable problem. Our two primary media partners, Disney and AT&T, are both very engaged in these issues…

“So it’s not an issue unique to the NBA. We may be affected by it a little bit more compared to some properties because we have such a young fan base, but I’m super confident over time we’ll work through it because there remains enormous interest in our players and our game.”

Silver also showed at the NBA’s tech summit where he thinks the broadcast of NBA games is headed, trying to bring the courtside experience into the home (with an assist from Bill Murray).

Silver isn’t alone in thinking this way. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, for one, said basically the same thing recently.

A well-respected media consultant recently told Forbes magazine he doesn’t think this ratings downturn is going to hurt the league in 2025 when it’s time to negotiate a new broadcast deal.

“This season’s NBA ratings story is silly. It is a small sample size. This is a year-round league with year-round stories,” says sports media consultant Lee Berke of LHB Sports. “The next NBA media agreements will be a substantially evolved set of deals because of streaming. There will be an increasing range of media companies that want the NBA for the U.S. and worldwide.”

The current $2.7 billion per year NBA deal with ESPN and TNT runs through the 2024-25 season, and Berke expects the next deal to roughly double in value.

That’s the vision Adam Silver sees. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to connect those young viewers to the content. Then to stop measuring viewership the way our grandparents did.

Report: Larry Drew wanted to quit as Cavaliers coach during last year’s All-Star break

Former Cavaliers coach Larry Drew
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John Beilein is reportedly considering resigning as Cavaliers coach.

This makes the second straight season Cleveland’s coach contemplated departing at the All-Star break.

After firing Tyronn Lue in October 2018, the Cavs named Larry Drew interim coach. He immediately rejected the the title. Following an awkward week of Drew acting as the Cavaliers’ head coach but insisting he wasn’t head coach, they eventually paid him enough to accept the role. After the season ended, the Cavs and Drew parted ways.

His exit could have come sooner.

Joe Vardon of The Athletic:

He wanted to quit at the All-Star break last year on Cleveland. He just wanted to leave, wanted to have them promote whoever their G League coach is.

Larry Drew had more than a million dollars coming his way, and he was talked out of this, I think by his agent. Like, “You cannot do this.” Like,” It’s insane. You can’t leave now. Just stick it out.”

Beilein obviously has his own unique issues. But this reflects quite poorly on the Cavaliers.

Losing obviously factors. Cleveland is just starting to build up post-LeBron James. It’ll take time.

But plenty of teams rebuild and lose. They usually don’t have consecutive coaches ready to quit.

Owner Dan Gilbert and general manager Koby Altman better take a hard look at what’s failing culturally.

‘There’s a possibility’ DeMarcus Cousins returns to Lakers for playoffs

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It remains a real longshot, but Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel isn’t shutting the door.

DeMarcus Cousins has not stepped on the court this season for the Lakers, having torn his left ACL in workouts over the summer. He’s still at Staples Center nearly every game, and is working on his rehab.

Deep into his press availability Saturday, Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel was asked if it’s possible Cousins could return this summer (hat tip to Sam Quinn of CBS Sports for noticing).

“He’s on track to get healthy by the playoffs, and we’ll have to see where he’s at with rhythm and conditioning and timing and all that stuff,” Vogel said. “But there’s a possibility he returns this season, yes.”

As much as Cousins is hungry for a ring, don’t bet on getting any serious run. The Lakers are legit title contenders who have gotten good play out of JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard at center this season, and in the playoffs they likely will lean even more on Anthony Davis at the five (with LeBron James playing more four). Mix Cousins into that and it could throw off the rotations and rhythm of the team just as they enter the postseason.

How much Cousins could help the Lakers also would be up for debate. In last season’s NBA Finals, when Cousins was with Golden State, he was forced into heavier minutes because of injuries to Kevon Looney. While he had a strong Game 2 for them in a win — 11 points and 10 rebounds — for most of the series he hurt the Warriors. Cousins averaged 8.3 points and 4.7 rebounds a game, but shot 42.5 percent overall, 22.2 percent from three, and was a bigger liability on the other end of the court where the Raptors repeatedly attacked him through the pick-and-roll. The Warriors were offensively better with a very limited Looney on the court, once he was able to return.

Cousins is not the most mobile of players at this point, not surprising coming off an Achilles and ACL injury, but opposing teams will show no mercy.

Still, the door is open. If Cousins can get some run in less-stressful minutes and get his legs under him, who knows what we might see deep in the Lakers’ playoff run.

Luka Doncic says he’ll definitely play for Slovenia in Olympic Qualifying Tournament

Luka Doncic
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Slovenia won the last EuroBasket, in 2017.

But in a stacked European region, Slovenia hasn’t even qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Mavericks star Luka Doncic will try to change that.

Donatas Urbonas:

Slovenia got a tough draw, landing in host Lithuania’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Only one team from each OQT will reach the Olympics. Even Poland in the group stage will be no pushover.

But Doncic is obviously a difference-maker. Not only is he one of the world’s best players, he’s also comfortable with international style of play.

Slovenia needs him after Goran Dragic retired from the national team following the 2017 European basketball championship.

Slovenia’s first OQT game is June 24 against Angola. Dallas seems bound for a first-round loss. So, that should work. But if the Mavericks make a surprising run deep in the playoffs, Doncic could always reconsider – though he sounds quite certain now.