Sunday slate puts NBA in prime time, not bed time, in Europe

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NEW YORK (AP) — Sundays aren’t just for touchdowns and tailgates anymore.

While NFL football rules the day in the U.S., European fans are tuning in to the NBA in big numbers for a rare chance to catch live action and still get a good night of sleep.

The league expanded its schedule of Sunday afternoon starts this season, with 20 of the 23 games tipping off at 3:30 p.m. ET. That’s 9:30 p.m. in Spain, home of the European champions and a devoted fan base.

Matt Brabants, NBA senior vice president of global media distribution and business operations, said the games have become “appointment viewing” for fans in the 114 countries and territories in Europe, Africa and the Middle East who will see Minnesota visit Phoenix on Sunday.

And it barely requires any scheduling difficulty for the NBA, since with about 100 international players in the league, nearly every team has somebody the overseas audience wants to watch.

“Finding a team that’s compelling isn’t very hard,” Brabants said, “because you’ve got a team like, for example, the Timberwolves with a number of international players, including Ricky Rubio for example, who’s obviously Spanish and a big hit in Spain that fit easily into the schedule.”

It means some dreaded matinee starts for players, who often practice in the early afternoon but aren’t nearly as interested in playing games then.

“I know I couldn’t stand them as a player. Just hated them,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers, whose team is scheduled eight times at home this season for 12:30 p.m. local starts.

“As a coach, I think every coach loves them because at 5:30 in the evening you’re done with your work for the next day — I mean, selfishly. I just felt like as a player, and it doesn’t matter home or road, that you can’t catch up sometimes. Like if you start off bad, it feels like by the time you wake up, the game’s over.”

At least the players are only tired at game time occasionally. For many international fans, it’s a season-long issue.

A regular 7 or 7:30 p.m. local start in the U.S. means European fans may have to hang in until 3 a.m. or later to watch the end of a live game.

Spanish national team veteran Jose Calderon said his country’s fans are so passionate about the NBA that they do it. But he knows from talking to them that they would benefit from fewer all-nighters.

“When they see you after the season, only thing they say is like, ‘Man, it’s tough. We can’t sleep,'” the New York Knicks guard said. “Because at the end of the day, you got to wake up, or stay up. It’s like 2 in the morning or 3 in the morning, depending if some days (we’re) in the West or whatever, so it’s tough.

“You’ve got to go to work the next day, so people are always like, ‘I’ve got to sleep. It should be earlier.'”

The Sunday schedule the NBA introduced last season addresses that. Fans are treated to a number of strong games, particularly in January, when the matchups scheduled are the ones being shown on ABC’s national TV coverage.

Brabants said teams are supportive of the matinees, even knowing they compete with the NFL. They’ve been a hit overseas, where viewership for Sunday games increased 32 percent last season over 2013-14, when the games weren’t being shown at a consistent time.

But Brabants said the benefits go beyond ratings. Social media interactions — the league has more than 920 million likes and followers across all platforms — increase during the games, since more people are awake, and TV partners are putting more resources into pregame and postgame studio shows to serve their larger audiences.

“Because they know they’re going to have many more people tuning in than they would for a game at say 2:30 in the morning,” Brabants said.

Latvia, home of Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis, was added as the 114th country or territory being reached just last week. And the league has already started looking beyond Sundays, with 11 Saturday games scheduled for 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. ET.

That’s too late for prime time, but still makes an easier bed time.

“The earlier the better, but 5 o’clock on a Saturday in particular, a later afternoon start is still a very good thing for our business and we’ve seen more engagement on those Saturday games as well,” Brabants said.

Devin Booker says after latest Suns’ win “Kobe’s with me every day”

Devin Booker Kobe
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Devin Booker grew up a huge Kobe Bryant fan. When Booker made the league in 2016 he got to play against his idol and threw up 28 points on the night. Kobe was impressed. The two talked after the game and Kobe gave him an autographed pair of shoes with an inspirational message:

“Be Legendary.”

Booker took that to heart. He got the phrase as a tattoo. He’s been writing “Be Legendary” on his Nike’s before every game in the bubble. And after he scored 20 against the Pacers Thursday, helping the Suns remain undefeated for the restart, he said Kobe is still inspiring him every day.

“Kobe’s with me every day. You guys see what I put on my shoes with the ‘Be Legendary.’ It’s a reminder.”

Whatever he’s doing, it is working. Booker hit a Kobe-like turnaround game-winner to beat the Clippers. He’s averaging 28 points and 6.5 assists a game for the restart, and shooting 40% from three. Defenses are keying on him, but with a healthy Deandre Ayton and other players stepping up — Cameron Johnson has been a surprise standout in Orlando — the Suns look sharp and keep on winning.

Kobe would be proud.


Giannis Antetokounmpo drops 33 on Heat, Bucks secure No. 1 seed

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton scored 33 points each, and the Milwaukee Bucks overcame a huge early deficit to get a 130-116 win over the Miami Heat on Thursday to clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Heat led by as many as 23 points in a first half where the team piled up 73 points despite playing without Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic. Miami cooled off after the break and the Bucks took the lead in the third quarter but were down by 6 to start the fourth.

Antetokounmpo, the favorite to win his second MVP award, sat out about five minutes of the fourth quarter after collecting his fifth foul with 11 minutes to go. Milwaukee trailed by 1 with about five minutes remaining before using a 20-0 run, with three dunks from Antetokounmpo, to make it 130-111 with less than a minute to go and cruise to the victory.

Antetokounmpo and Middleton played 30 and 34 minutes respectively after the stars both sat out the entire second half of their last game on Tuesday.

Duncan Robinson had 21 points for the Heat, who lost to Milwaukee for the first time this season after winning the first two meetings.

The Heat led by 6 with about 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter when Antetokounmpo picked up his fifth foul on a charge and headed to the bench. Andre Iguodala made a 3 for Miami before the Bucks scored the next 13 points, capped by a 3 from Bledsoe, to take a 107-103 lead with about seven minutes remaining.

Robinson made a 3-pointer to end a scoring drought of almost four minutes for Miami with about 6 ½ minutes to go and Antetokounmpo re-entered the game soon after that.

The Heat led by 12 with about 10 minutes left in third quarter before Milwaukee used a 16-3 run to take an 82-81 lead with five minutes left in the quarter. Antetokounmpo and Wesley Matthews each had five points each in that span to help close the gap.

The Bucks cut the lead to 3 with a dunk by Antetokounmpo late in the third. But the Heat wrapped up the quarter with a 5-2 spurt to take a 98-92 lead into the fourth.

Report: Bulls likely to keep Jim Boylen as coach for financial reasons

Bulls coach Jim Boylen
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The Bulls appeared ready to fire Jim Boylen. After all, Chicago just hired a new team president in Arturas Karnisovas who’d want to pick his own coach. That was unlikely to be Boylen, whose tenure had been defined by players disliking him, ill-timed timeouts and losing.

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

But as the Sun-Times learned this week, even if Karnisovas didn’t like what he would have seen from Boylen he would likely be handcuffed from making a change.

According to several sources, there is strong growing momentum that financial concerns the Reinsdorfs have about the 2020-21 NBA season will keep Boylen in his current seat, as well as most of the coaching staff.

Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf has earned a reputation for his frugality. However, the economic downturn surrounding the coronavirus pandemic has caused many teams to tighten their belts. The financial consequences will likely continue into next season.

But this puts Chicago at a disadvantage.

Boylen has looked like one of the NBA’s worst coaches. Though Bulls ownership is more optimistic than most on Boylen and he could exceed expectations, it’s telling that Chicago probably wouldn’t have kept him based on merit. This is about saving money and hoping for the best.

That’s obviously great news for Boylen. He has improved significantly since taking over last season. More time on the job could allow him to grow into it. That said, improving from a near-mutiny in his early days doesn’t exactly mean he’s in an acceptable place now. Boylen still has a long way to go, and it could be more difficult if players are tired of him.

Nets fined $25K for injury-reporting violation

Brooklyn Nets
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Earlier this season, Kyrie Irving missed several weeks with a shoulder injury. Throughout the absence, the Nets provided few details and no clear timeline. Eventually, a report said Irving could miss 2-3 additional weeks with bursitis. The Nets denied it. Later, Irving confirmed he had bursitis then returned nearly three weeks after the report.

Finally, Brooklyn caught the league’s ire.

NBA release:

The NBA today announced that the Brooklyn Nets have been fined $25,000 for failing to comply with league policies governing injury reporting.

It’s unclear what specifically caused this violation. Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Jarrett Allen, Jamal Crawford and Rodions Kurucs have all appeared on the Nets’ injury report during the resumption. As 19-point underdog, Brooklyn pulled a historic upset of the Bucks. Remember, public injury disclosures are primarily about preserving gambling integrity.

For the NBA not to reveal even basic details while fining the Nets for their lack of transparency is ironic. It’s also ironic this fine comes amid a restart that featured the NBA being highly secretive about player heath.

The Clippers got fined $50,000 earlier this season for saying Kawhi Leonard was healthy. What did Brooklyn do that was less egregious but still worth of a fine?