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Russell Westbrook, Thunder cruise past Bulls 109-94

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CHICAGO (AP) — Even Russell Westbrook was impressed with the passing by Oklahoma City’s big men.

Westbrook flirted with another triple-double and Steven Adams led a dominant effort in the paint, helping the Thunder pull away from the Chicago Bulls for an easy 109-94 victory Monday night.

Westbrook had 21 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds, falling just short of his 18th triple-double of the season. But his all-around performance is practically a sure thing these days.

It was the inside play of Adams and Enes Kanter that really hurt Chicago, with the big men scoring with ease or passing out of double-teams to set up their teammates.

“They do a great job of playing off each other,” Westbrook said.

Adams had 22 points on 11-for-14 shooting, and Kanter finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds. The duo helped the Thunder to 56.6 percent shooting from the field, a 60-36 advantage on points in the paint and a 42-38 edge in rebounding.

“I thought tonight, on both ends of the floor, we played at a high level,” coach Billy Donovan said.

Dwyane Wade led Chicago with 22 points, and Michael Carter-Williams had 15. Cristiano Felicio finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

The Bulls had won three in a row and five of seven, but they were no match for the Thunder with Jimmy Butler hampered by an illness. The reigning Eastern Conference player of the week had one point on 0-for-6 shooting and seven assists.

“I appreciate him coming out and giving it a shot. That says a lot about him, as a competitor, but he was really struggling, obviously,” coach Fred Hoiberg said.

Butler was sent home after he left the game in the third quarter, and Hoiberg said Butler will not play Tuesday night against Washington. Wade, who turns 35 on Jan. 17, also will rest against the Wizards.

“Jimmy can’t put up 50 every night. We have to do better. We have to support him a lot better,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said.

Gibson’s three-point play off a slick pass from Wade got Chicago within 10 with 6:51 left in the third, but Westbrook helped the Thunder put it away from there.

The dynamic point guard threw an alley-oop to Adams and then found the center for a layup. Westbrook set up Andre Roberson for a 3-pointer and a cutting dunk. Kanter added a driving layup with 54 seconds left, helping Oklahoma City to an 89-67 lead after three.

GRANT VS GRANT

Brothers Jerami and Jerian Grant faced off. Jerian Grant had 11 points in 21 minutes for the Bulls. Jerami Grant played 16 minutes for the Thunder and finished with seven points.

“Whenever I get to play against him, it’s great to see him,” Jerami Grant said.

TIP-INS

Thunder: Victor Oladipo scored 13 points on 6-for-9 shooting. … G Cameron Payne played almost 15 minutes in his second game of the season after being sidelined by a right foot injury. … The Thunder had lost four straight road games.

Bulls: G Rajon Rondo did not play on his bobblehead night. The veteran guard hasn’t played since Dec. 30 against Indiana, and it’s unclear when or if he will return to Hoiberg’s rotation. … Rookie G Denzel Valentine missed his third straight game with an ankle injury.

 

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

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.