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Tom Thibodeau still hasn’t fixed Timberwolves defense

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DETROIT – Taj Gibson is experiencing déjà vu – to a point.

Gibson played for the Bulls in 2010 when they hired Tom Thibodeau, who exhaustively drilled his trademark defense with his players. Now with the Timberwolves – who hired Thibodeau as president/coach last year – Gibson said Thibodeau is scheming and teaching his defense similarly.

But the results have been radically different.

Chicago ranked No. 1 in points allowed per possession Thibodeau’s first season then second, sixth and second before slipping to a still-above-average 11th his final year. Minnesota ranked 27th last season and is not only dead last this season, but is allowing the most points per possession of all time by a wide margin.

“The only thing about Chicago, we just did what he told us to do – every game,” said Gibson, whom the Timberwolves signed last summer to provide defense and toughness. “If he said A to Z, we did A to Z every single game. And in practice, we did A to Z.

“That’s the only thing we’re trying to work out here now, have us work on things from A to Z. And sometimes you don’t want to do it, but you’re going to have to do it if you want to be successful in this league.”

Gibson didn’t pinpoint why the Timberwolves didn’t follow Thibodeau’s game plans as well as the Bulls did. Minnesota’s roster is less experienced and maybe lacking the defensive capabilities of Chicago’s. Joakim Noah won Defensive Player of the Year and Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler also made All-Defensive teams for Thibodeau’s Bulls. Gibson and Omer Asik were no slouches on that end, either. The only Timberwolves with notable defensive accomplishments are… Butler and Gibson.

And Thibodeau.

Thibodeau was expected to immediately overhaul the Timberwolves – install an impenetrable defense and lift them into playoff contention. He was an overnight success in Chicago, winning Coach of the Year and guiding the Bulls to 62 wins and the conference finals his fist season. Why couldn’t he duplicate that speedy ascension in Minnesota?

His first year there was bumpy, to say the least. The Timberwolves went 31-51 and finished 27th in points allowed per possession.

The common reaction: Pundits, in hindsight, probably overrated Thibodeau’s ability to instantly transform a moribund franchise. The failure to meet expectations was seen as a failure of those setting the expectations, not Thibodeau. Give him another year, and everything would turn out alright – especially once he acquired Butler.

Yet… everything is not alright. Not even close.

Minnesota (2-3) is allowing 114.0 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. No other team is close:

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Five games are a small sample, but it’s not as if the Timberwolves have faced a murders’ row of offenses. They’ve played the Kawhi Leonard-less Spurs, Jazz, still-figuring-it-out Thunder, Pacers and Pacers.

“We’ve got to be better,” Minnesota center Karl-Anthony Towns said. “It’s only five games in. We have a lot more time. But we don’t have that much time. It’s too damn much. We’ve got to be better.”

The Timberwolves were missing Butler (illness) for their worst two defensive performances of the season, Indiana and Detroit. When he returns, that will patch some problems. Not only is he the Timberwolves’ best defender, the strong wing unlocks small-ball lineups that allow Minnesota to handle more matchups.

At power forward, the 32-year-old Gibson sometimes looks too slow to handle smaller stretch fours. Butler was a masterful addition, but with a two-year, $28 million contract, Gibson is an expensive band-aid. Despite Gibson’s deficiencies, Thibodeau wanted the big’s reliability.

The real problem: Thibodeau can’t find that elsewhere – especially his franchise cornerstone younger players, Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

Towns is a mobile 7-footer with ideal physical tools and improving defensive effort. Yet, his awareness lags far behind, as this play clipped by Dane Moore of Zone Coverage illustrates:

Like Towns, Wiggins, entered the NBA with high defensive expectations. Rangy and quick, Wiggins looked like he could hawk opposing wings. Instead, he has turned into a score-first player with limited complementary skills. He’s not nearly aggressive enough defensively even to tell whether he gets it.

The Timberwolves are lucky they fleeced the Bulls for Butler, because he covers what would have been major growing pains around Towns and Wiggins (and Zach LaVine, another minus defender). Minnesota has allowed an astounding 134.0 points per 100 possessions when Towns and Wiggins share the court without Butler.

“You need everyone committed to playing defense,” Thibodeau said. “It can’t be left upon one or two guys.

“If one guy is resting or taking it easy, it’s going to make the whole group look bad. I think that we still have to have an understanding of how hard we have to play and how hard we have to close out and challenge shots and get in the fight to rebound and things like that.”

Minnesota has been torched in transition, not getting back quickly enough and losing track of opposing players. The Timberwolves surrender steals only slightly more than average. Sometimes, they crash the offensive glass too hard, but they’re only middling at actually securing offensive rebounds. So, there’s no good excuse for getting beat down court as often as they are.

It hasn’t been much better in the halfcourt, where they’re slow to close out and plagued by miscommunication and poor angles against screens and handoffs.

“We’re better, but making mistakes that we made last year,” Towns said. “So, we’ve got to fix it.”

Attorney representing Kelli Tennant, Luke Walton’s accuser, releases statement

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Right now a lot of people around the league — the Sacramento Kings, the Golden State Warriors, and the NBA league office itself — are starting investigations into the allegations that newly-minted Kings’ coach Luke Walton sexually assaulted a female reporter back while an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors.

These allegations blindsided not only the Kings but the entire NBA, and there is no history with the Santa Monica Police Department (the city where the alleged assault took place) because no crime was ever reported.

Now Garo Mardirossian, the attorney for the plaintiff in the lawsuit Kelli Tennant, has released a statement (and later today will conduct a press conference). Here is his statement, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“As alleged in the lawsuit, women connected to the National Basketball Association have long had to suffer in silence through the indignities of gender abuse and sexual exploitation at the hands of famous, wealthy, and powerful men. Aided by their fame, money, and power, and motivated by a culture that tolerates misogynistic gender-bias, too many men in professional basketball inappropriately abuse women. As alleged in the lawsuit, defendant Luke Walton — a former professional basketball player and the former head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers — is one of these men.

As alleged in the lawsuit, Kelli Tennant — a former collegiate athlete and star sports broadcaster, is a woman who has had to tolerate and summer in silence from the abuse she suffered at the hands of Luke Walton. By way of this lawsuit, Ms. Tennant is speaking out and saying #timesup to the culture of abusing women in the NBA.”

Walton’s attorney Mark Baute previously released this statement:

“Luke Walton retained me to defend him against these baseless allegations. The accuser is an opportunist, not a victim, & her claim is not credible. We intend to prove this in a courtroom.”

Tennant was a host with the Lakers’ regional sports network when the incident reportedly took place in 2016, before Walton had been hired as the Lakers’ coach. According to the lawsuit, she had written a book and wanted him to write the book’s forward. She met him in the lobby of the hotel, agreed to go up to his room to discuss the book, and it was there he pinned her to the bed, kissed her and tried to force himself on her, according to the lawsuit allegations. She says she screamed and tried to get up, but he pinned her in place. Eventually, she was able to get away, according to the lawsuit.

Walton, through his attorney, denies this is what happened. The Kings have stuck by Walton while the investigation is ongoing.

Right now there are a lot of people trying to find out what happened in that hotel room three years ago, and just as many trying to spin the story as it develops.

NBA television ratings down first weekend of playoffs (following season trend)

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There was some serious competition for eyeballs last weekend when the NBA opened its playoffs with eight games over two days. Most importantly, Tiger Woods was on the leaderboard (and eventually won) The Masters, and that was the big draw for sports fans all weekend. Then by Sunday night, Game of Thrones was all anyone wanted to talk about.

Still, NBA television ratings were down for the first weekend of action, in some cases by more than 40 percent. Paulson at Sports Media Watch broke down the numbers.

Ratings and viewership declined double-digits for all-but-one NBA playoff window over the weekend. The exception was Saturday’s Clippers-Warriors Game 1, which had a 3.0 and 4.83 million on ABC in primetime — up 7% in ratings and 13% in viewership from ABC’s opener last postseason (Spurs-Warriors: 2.8, 4.28M) and up 20% in both measures from its 2017 opener (Pacers-Cavaliers: 2.5, 4.04M). Those games aired in the afternoon.

Versus the same window last year, Heat-Sixers on ESPN, ratings and viewership both increased 20% (from 2.5 and 4.02M)…

The rest of the weekend was a dud. On Sunday, ABC earned a 2.55 and 3.90 million for Thunder-Blazers Game 1 — down 32% in ratings and 34% in viewership from last year (Pacers-Cavaliers: 3.8, 5.94M) and down 31% and 40% respectively from 2017 (Blazers-Warriors: 3.7, 6.52M). It was ABC’s least-watched opening weekend playoff game in four years (2015 Pelicans-Warriors: 3.49M).

While there have been entertaining series in the first round — Brooklyn/Philadelphia and Portland/Oklahoma City in particular — only one series, Denver and San Antonio, will go at least six and maybe seven. That does not help. On the bright side for the NBA, the matchups get far more compelling in the second round, Houston and Golden State out West, and both series in the East (Philly vs. Toronto, Boston vs. Milwaukee).

Also, there is no LeBron James in the playoffs. Stars are draws.

While the numbers (both on traditional broadcast and cable) were down, and were this season for the league, this is more of a broad trend across sports. With the advent of streaming and changing view habits, live NBA games (and sports in general) can provide one of the few “must watch live” moments, which makes it valuable to advertisers and networks. However, capturing those viewers, particularly younger ones under the age of 35, is much more difficult. There’s a reason the NBA started offering streamed snippets of games on their streaming services (you could buy just 10 minutes of league pass, or tune in at the end of a close game just to watch that finale). Getting those viewers in front of a traditional television is not as easy as it once was.

It’s something the NBA thinks a lot about. It’s also something every professional sports league around the globe is struggling with.

Report: Lakers interviewed Jason Kidd for head coaching position Monday

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If you want to know what would really freak Lakers’ nation out, this potential outcome would be it.

While the Lakers have seemed focused on Tyronn Lue and Monty Williams as the frontrunners to be their next head coach (both have second interviews this week), Lakers brass interviewed Jason Kidd on Monday, reports Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

Kidd’s interview was with general manager Rob Pelinka, as well as team executive Kurt Rambis and was conducted at the team’s practice facility in El Segundo, California. The interview with the Hall of Fame point guard lasted for several hours, sources told ESPN.

Kidd probably would get a thumbs’ up from LeBron James, the pair were teammates for Team USA and LeBron is known to respect Kidd. Maybe it’s for that reason that Kidd’s name came up early as someone the Lakers would consider.

Kidd’s reputation as a coach has seemingly hit a low point after he was let go in Milwaukee, then Mike Budenholzer came in this season and took the same core of a roster to the best record in the NBA. Budenholzer will likely be named coach of the year because he modernized the Bucks attack and defense, taking them out of Kidd’s 1990s influenced style and putting the players in much better positions. The changes and results were striking.

For a Laker team whose roster building and organization have seemed a little stuck in the past in recent years, hiring Kidd would not seem a way forward. He at least got a foot in the door and an interview.

Report: Monty Williams the Suns’ top target for coach

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The Suns – callously, but understandably – fired Igor Kokoskov after his very first season as an NBA head coach.

Monty Williams emerged quickly as a target.

In fact, he’s at the front of the line.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Consider this yet another signal the Lakers will hire Tyronn Lue.

Williams and Lue are reportedly the Lakers’ main candidates. But why would Williams pick the Suns and all their problems over the Lakers and… um, all their problems? At least the Lakers have LeBron James and the Los Angeles market.

Maybe Phoenix appeals to Williams even though it wouldn’t to most candidates. Maybe the Suns are making a bold (delusional?) move to lure Williams, even if he’s truly still under consideration with the Lakers.

But it’s tough to believe they’d convey such strong public interest without believing they’ll get Williams. And it’s hard to believe they’ll get Williams unless the Lakers pass first.

Williams deserves to coach in the league again. He did a good, though not great, job with the Pelicans. He got fired from New Orleans, stepped away from coaching when his wife died and then joined the 76ers’ staff. This would be a solid hire by the Suns if they can pull it off.

They should also talk to other candidates like Trail Blazers assistant David Vanterpool. Nothing is assured with Williams, and a wide search can only help.