Big3 going live, looks to make big step forward in second season

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The inaugural season of the Big3 felt a little bit like the 1970s NBA — the games were physical, player conditioning was not always up to modern standards, and the biggest games were shown on tape delay. At least with the Big3 the shorts were longer.

Then we all know what happened to the NBA in the 1980s — Magic and Bird ushered in an era of increased talent around the league, the popularity exploded, and soon the games were not only live but must-watch viewing for sports fans.

The Big3 plans to follow in those footsteps.

In its second season — a barnstorming-style tour which tips off June 22 at the Toyota Center in Houston — Big3 games will be broadcast live every Friday Nights on FS1 (or Fox), and those games will see a lot more talent on the court:

Amar’e Stoudemire. Nate Robinson. Metta World Peace/Ron Artest. Baron Davis. Carlos Boozer. Chris “Birdman” Anderson. That’s just to name a few new faces, joining returnees such as Chauncey Billups, Brian Scalabrine, Kenyon Martin and more (plus coaches including Julius Irving, Charles Oakley, and newcomer Michael Cooper).

“I think the talent level’s a lot better, I think people are going to be in shape,” Andre Owens, the No. 1 pick in the Big3 draft of Scalabrine’s Ball Hogs, told NBC Sports. “And Trilogy (last year’s champion), they got a target on their back. Every game Trilogy plays, people going to try and go after them.

“But the talent level is so much better than last year, and people are going to be in so much better shape. It’s going to be interesting.”

It was something Ice Cube — one of the league’s co-founders — predicted: A lot of good former NBA players were on the fence about his new venture, but once they saw it succeed for a season they were ready to jump in. About 100 players showed up for the Big3 tryouts this season, even though only about 19 could get drafted.

“I just can’t wait to get out there and play,” Artest told NBC Sports. “I just got back into the gym and I’m excited about it. Ice Cube was able to pay to start this thing with his successful career. I’m going to get out there live on Fox on Friday’s I’m very excited about it.”

Those new stars had better not expect deference.

“It’s not your name it’s your game — you got to have real game,” said Owens, who was top five in the league in scoring, rebounds, and assists last season. “You can’t hide it.”

That talent level and the more prominent names will bring more eyeballs to the games, more people tuning in to the production. Going live with that was something the Big3 would not have been ready for in its rookie season, admitted league co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz. They were learning as they went on how to make it work, how to keep the energy up in sold-out major arenas.

“The learning curve, as with any new business, is tremendous,” Kwatinetz said. “Even though it is generally the sport of basketball, 3-on-3 really is its own game with its own strategies, and part of what we learned is the game would really evolve and be something different….

“We made a fair amount of changes after Game 1 (last season)…” Kwatinetz said, noting the first day of games too five-and-a-half-hours. “By the time we went live (on Fox Sports) for the finals, we had learned so much about camera angles and pacing, and how to stage a live event so it would look great on TV.”

The changes they made over the course of the season — such as dropping the games from first to 60 down to 50 — were often about pacing on and off the court. The idea was to keep the energy up in the arena — shorter breaks between games filled with in-house entertainment, and the lower score meant players had to keep up the energy and pace during play, making the product more entertaining.

The nonstop energy needed meant players getting back in the gym early was one theme for season two — players from last season admitted they didn’t grasp the conditioning level needed to play a competitive game of 3-on-3 to 50. It may be half-court ball, but the player movement is constant and players have to be two-way guys.

“The games were quicker, faster, quicker turnaround from offense to defense,” Kwatinetz said. “Less dead time, just things that kept the pace up.”

“It was definitely real basketball,” Owens said. “It’s a little harder than 5-on-5 in that you’ve got to be able to score and you’ve got to be able to play defense. If you can’t do all that you’re going to be exposed. And the contact and the physicality of the game was very intense, so it was definitely harder than 5-on-5.”

The physicality of the league was something the fans and players liked — the Big3 felt a lot more like 1990s era basketball than 2018. Guys were given leeway to bang on each other like the old days, or a good playground game. Players loved it.

“That’s how I play, I put my hard hat on and I’m physical,” Owens said.

The rules of the half-court league — including the much-discussed four-point shot from certain spots on the court — cater more to the mind of a 35-year-old player more than just the speed of a 22-year-old player, organizers said.

“These guys, when it comes to tactics and strategy, and understanding the skills of basketball, they are way beyond what the first or second or third year NBA player is capable of doing,” Kwatinetz said.

But for the players, much of the motivation is the same that has always driven them — pride and ego.

“(Players are) definitely better prepped because they understand that the magnitude of this is just growing,” Owens said of the second season. “You’re playing in big arenas and packed houses and ain’t nobody want to be exposed on TV and in front of friends because they know how serious it is. And you got to be in shape, like I said everything is magnified. You’ve got to be able to play, and if you can’t play you’re going to get exposed.”

The Big3 is making strides on other fronts. They have a new sponsorship deal with Adidas. They will be doing a Young3 event every Thursday in whatever city they are in, reaching out to youth in the area.

Last year, the Big3 found a market — basketball fans would pay for a little nostalgia as long as the product was still good.

Now they are ready to find out just how big that market really is.

LeBron James, Anthony Davis combine for 49 points, Lakers beat Knicks

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NEW YORK (AP) — LeBron James scored 19 of his 21 points early, cutting into Kobe Bryant’s shrinking lead over him for the No. 3 scoring spot in NBA history, and the Los Angeles Lakers beat the New York Knicks 100-92 on Wednesday night.

Anthony Davis led the Lakers with 28 points in his second game back after a five-game absence, after the Western Conference leaders were handed their worst loss of the season Monday in his return.

James’ quiet second half left him with 33,599 points, 44 back of Bryant.

That keeps James in good shape to catch the former Lakers star Saturday at Philadelphia, where the five-time NBA champion was born. Los Angeles has a game in between Thursday in Brooklyn.

Davis scored eight points in the final 3:45 and finished 13 of 13 from the free throw line. He played 30 minutes after going only 23 in his return from a bruised gluteus maximus on Monday in Boston, where the Lakers were routed 139-107.

Marcus Morris scored 20 points and Damyean Dotson had 17 for the Knicks, who put up a much better effort after losing by 30 two weeks ago in Los Angeles. But they just couldn’t come up with timely shots to really threaten the Lakers in the fourth quarter.

James shot 8 of 10 in 17 minutes of the first half, but the Knicks held the rest of the Lakers relatively in check and the game was tied at 48 at halftime.

The Lakers led by six after three quarters, then opened the fourth with Dwight Howard‘s dunk, a 3-pointer by Rajon Rondo and a basket by Kyle Kuzma to extend it to 83-70.

New York hung around and was within six again late but the Lakers prevailed despite only two baskets, both by Davis, in the final four minutes.

 

Zion Williamson’s first NBA basket a putback

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
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In his first NBA action, Zion Williamson looked like what he is: A rookie trying to find his way.

At least Willaimson didn’t force the issue and tried to blend in, making smart basketball plays, which led to a first-half bucket and assist in his 8:11 minutes of action.

Zion’s first bucket in the NBA came in the second quarter of his debut game, a putback off a Nickeil Alexander-Walker miss.

In his first quarter run, Zion looked to be unselfish with the ball and made the right basketball play a  few times, passing out of soft doubles and picking up an assist to Brandon Ingram cutting down the lane (but Zion was 0-of-1 shooting).

It was a good start if a bit tentative, something to be expected of a guy who missed 44 games and is now trying to come into the rotation midseason.

As he grows more comfortable, New Orleans needs Zion to attack the rim. The Pelicans have shot creators and shooters — Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, J.J. Redick — and a rim-running, attacking threat that forces defenses to collapse a little will make things easier for the Pelicans’ perimeter players.

San Antonio was sharp in the first half and led by double-digits for much it. That came in part because New Orleans started 0-of-9 from three (despite some clean looks). San Antonio led 60-51 at the half. If the Pelicans are going to make a playoff push, this is the kind of game they need (at home against another team in the mix for one of the final playoff spots in the West).

NBA games still not on China’s state run television

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In the wake of the backlash from China after Rockets GM Daryl Morey Tweeted out support for the protestors in Hong Kong — the kind of political statement the NBA takes in stride domestically but found it stirred a hornets’ nest in this case — Chinese state television stopped showing NBA games.

That is still the case today, according to Nets’ owner Joeseph Tsai.

Tsai — one of the co-founders of the Alibaba Group, which runs the Chinese equivalent of Amazon — is a billionaire with his feet in both the United States and China. He spoke to Bloomberg News recently about where things stand now in the NBA/China relationship (hat tip Nets Daily).

Tsai is eager to see NBA games back on [state run] CCTV. Although [streaming service] Tencent has begun showing them again, the state-owned broadcaster has yet to budge. A person familiar with the matter says the league is optimistic the network will relent, beginning with the All-Star Game on Feb. 16—there’s no ready replacement, after all, for LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

“Once you are on the air,” Tsai says, “everything will come back.”

For now.

The NBA, like any American group doing business in China, is caught up in geopolitical forces well beyond its control, from trade wars to protests in Hong Kong. Morey’s Tweet touched on what Tsai called a “third rail of Chinese politics” but he spoke of the Hong Kong protestors as separatists when they would argue they simply want what was promised them in the agreement that transferred control of the city from Brittish to Chinese rule. (And that last sentence itself is a gross oversimplification of a complicated situation.)

NBA games likely will end up back on Chinese television soon (although it will be longer for Rockets’ games), and the business of the NBA in China will continue. Both sides want to make money (and in China, keep a younger generation happy with a sport they have grown to love). However, the underlying issues that caused the last flare-up are not going away — things may be just simmering on the back burner, but the flames are not turned off.

When things do flare up again, Tsai will end up fight back in the middle of it.

Cavaliers: Ante Zizic out indefinitely with vestibular condition

Ante Zizic
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Kyrie Irving left the Celtics for the Nets after two seasons. The Cavaliers flipped Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder their first season in Cleveland.

The last player remaining with his team from that monumental-looking Cavs-Celtics trade, Ante Zizic might not be long for Cleveland, either.

In fact, it’s unclear whether he’ll play again for the Cavs.

Cavaliers release:

Center Ante Zizic, who has missed the team’s last five games after being diagnosed with a vestibular condition, will be OUT indefinitely. After experiencing symptoms of nausea and dizziness, it was determined by the Cavaliers medical team that Zizic requires a period of vestibular rehabilitation to evaluate those symptoms further. His return to basketball activities will be updated as appropriate.

“Indefinitely” always sounds scary. That’s especially so with an uncommon basketball medical update.

If the Cavaliers unload veterans like Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love before the trade deadline, Zizic could be in line for more playing time down the stretch. He could use a showcase entering unrestricted free agency this summer.

Hopefully, he’s healthy enough to be up for it.