NBA 2K18 release moves Sixers, NBA toward inaugural NBA 2K League season

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NBA 2K18 release moves Sixers, NBA toward inaugural NBA 2K League season

For sports gamers across the country, Friday marked the anticipated opening whistle for NBA 2K18, the latest version of the most popular sports title in North America. But for the Sixers and NBA, it means another milestone in the progression toward the inaugural season of NBA 2K League.

“It’s huge,” said NBA 2K League managing director Brendan Donohue. “Everyone connected to this thing is wildly excited about the game coming out. It definitely throws some gas on the fire in terms of our excitement level, the teams and their respective markets. This will be another crescendo point on our calendar in the next six months.”

And there’s reason to be excited. NBA 2K League is a budding esports competition based on NBA 2K18 and future NBA 2K releases. Expected to begin in May 2018, the Sixers and 16 others NBA franchises will build a roster of professional gamers to battle it out on the NBA 2K18 court in fully staffed 5-on-5 games. 

“Since the league was announced in February, we’ve seen a growing excitement around the game and it keeps getting higher and higher,” Donohue said. “For us, we’re excited the game is well received and that the community is excited about it.”

While the idea of a competitive league based around a video game may seem foreign to many, joining the NBA 2K League wasn’t a shortsighted investment for the Sixers, who are extremely active in the esports space.

“The potential is endless,” said Sixers Chief Sales and Marketing Officer Chris Heck.

Newzoo, a market research firm dedicated to digital gaming, predicts general esports revenues will more than double to upwards of $1.5 billion by 2020. Jumping on that wave of momentum in September 2016, the Sixers purchased Team Dignitas as their first foray into esports.

“We had a very fast and hard dose of reality when we were investigating the purchase of Team Dignitas, our esports franchise,” Heck said. “What we found out was maybe half the world is watching traditional stick and ball sports, and we feel really good about that. But there’s the other half of the world and they are into esports. It was a no-brainer for us to jump into this space and we’re seeing the results with compelling numbers from our sponsors both locally and internationally.” 

According to Forbes, each NBA 2K League organization paid $750,000 to buy-in for a three-year commitment, with more NBA teams lined up to join in for the second season.

“It’s not for the faint of heart but we’re not in this business to just get through the day,” Heck said. “We want to do something that changes the future landscape. It’s a big commitment because we believe in it and we believe in esports in general, we obviously believe in the NBA and we think that being one of the original franchises is a gift.”

Being an original franchise in an original league also means building a team from scratch. Before organizations like the Sixers enter the competition, they need to identify, analyze and draft players. The first league draft will take place in March with tryouts held in February. 

There could even be a NBA-style lottery to determine pick seeding.

“We want all 17 teams to be successful and have a chance at being successful, so yes, you will see a draft from us,” Donohue said. “All of the teams will be able to draft their players, and we’ll create a system where they can identify those players.” 

Unlike many other esports clubs, once drafted, the 2K pros, who will be salaried, will move to their host city, live in a team-supplied gaming house and practice together. With the Sixers' infrastructure and connection to Dignitas, Donohue believes the Philadelphia team has an opportunity to stand out.

“The Sixers are already using their practice facility for crossover opportunities with Dignitas, so that’s really where it's amazing to see potential,” he said. “The player experience, whether that's access to education around nutrition, sleep, psychology and doctors. They have state of the art medical operations and facilities, it will be a pretty cool advantage.”

Heck noted that the Sixers will rely heavily on their already established esports connections. 

“We’re following their lead more on the esports side than on the basketball side,” Heck said of Dignitas. “We have a view of the world that is maybe different than everybody else.

“We’re as well suited for this opportunity as any franchise in the world.“

Taking a page from both the NBA schedule and popular esports tournaments, NBA 2K League could feature a regular season and side tournaments, similar to NCAA basketball conference tournaments and NCAA Men’s Division I basketball tournament, or March Madness. Details are still being worked out.

“We love how esports generates tournaments that create incredible drama and create incredible stories,” Donohue said. “It brings the players to life.”

Teams will be flown to the central location, which has yet to be determined, where all games will take place on either console, Sony PlayStation or Microsoft Xbox, or PC. This will likely be a small venue to host fans and provide infrastructure for a successful broadcast, which is also to be determined.

“They are working on that right now, we are weighing in with our own thoughts about what’s best for the league,” Heck said. “We have full faith that the NBA will make the right decision on how the fans and viewers receive the content.” 

With details constantly emerging, the league is hurdling toward relevancy and its 2018 launch. Esports, with all its potential, is the next evolution in big-money sports, and the NBA has claimed its spot.

“We believe that the NBA and league office has more of a global look and view in the world of sports and beyond than anyone else,” Heck said. “They see this as a new frontier.”

Who needs Kawhi? Aldridge drops 45 in Spurs' OT win

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Who needs Kawhi? Aldridge drops 45 in Spurs' OT win

SAN ANTONIO -- LaMarcus Aldridge had a career-high 45 points, helping San Antonio overcome Donovan Mitchell's 35-point performance for Utah in the Spurs' 124-120 overtime victory over the Jazz on Friday night.

The Spurs won their sixth straight and beat the Jazz for the first time in four meetings this season.

Utah's 12-game road winning streak came to an end, but only after Mitchell had 14 points in the fourth quarter, including three 3-pointers in the final two minutes to force overtime.

San Antonio remained sixth in the Western Conference with the same record as fifth-place New Orleans, a half-game behind Oklahoma City for fourth. Utah remained eighth in the West.

After free throws by Spurs guards Manu Ginobili and Patty Mills and a dunk by Jazz center Rudy Gobert put San Antonio up 114-111, Mitchell drained his third 3-pointer of the fourth with 3.6 seconds remaining to force overtime.

Mills, who finished with 23 points, had six points in overtime as the Spurs capped an undefeated six-game homestand.

Pacers use late run to edge Clippers
INDIANAPOLIS -- Bojan Bogdanovic scored 28 points and the Indiana Pacers used a late 9-0 run to hold on for a 109-104 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night, putting them on the precipice of clinching a playoff spot.

The Pacers won for only the second time in five games but can clinch a playoff berth with one more win or a Detroit loss.

Los Angeles' fading playoff aspirations were dealt another blow. The Clippers are now three games behind Utah for the final postseason spot in the Western Conference. Utah was playing later Friday.

Lou Williams led Los Angeles with 27 points and DeAndre Jordan finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds as the Clippers lost for the fifth time in six games (see full recap).

Jokic, Murray lift Nuggets over Wizards
WASHINGTON -- Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray each scored 25 points to keep the Denver Nuggets' playoff hopes alive by beating the Washington Wizards 108-100 on Friday night.

The one-two punch of Jokic and Murray plus outside shooting from Will Barton allowed the Nuggets to withstand a third-quarter charge from the Wizards and maintain their sights on one of the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference. Denver went into the night two games back of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Utah Jazz and shot 50 percent from 3-point territory to stay very much in the race with nine games remaining.

Bradley Beal led Washington with 24 points as it failed to gain ground in a competitive East where five teams are separated in the standings by four games (see full recap).

Brett Brown's top competition for Coach of the Year

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Brett Brown's top competition for Coach of the Year

The Coach of the Year award in every sport typically comes down to: 

1. Which team overachieved the most?

2. Which team increased its win total the most?

3. Which team that fits both descriptions has a media-friendly coach?

Brett Brown is a deserving candidate this season. Not saying he'll win, or even that he stands out as the most deserving, but he's more than just "in the conversation."

Before getting to the other candidates and their likelihood of winning, let's acknowledge why Brown deserves serious consideration. 

We all knew the Sixers would be better this season. A second year of Joel Embiid and the first of Embiid and Ben Simmons. Finally, a good veteran shooter in JJ Redick.

But did you expect the Sixers to up their win total by 20 games? Currently, that's what they're on pace to do.

Did you expect them to pick up wins over the Rockets, Spurs, Celtics, Raptors, Cavs and Spurs again? Yeah, the Sixers have laid some eggs this season, but they have just as many high-quality wins.

Factor in the continued development of players like Dario Saric and T.J. McConnell and it should be clear that Brown has gotten a whole lot out of this team.

Now, on to the other candidates. The way I see it, there are six in addition to Brown: 

• Dwane Casey (Raptors)
• Nate McMillan (Pacers)
• Brad Stevens (Celtics)
• Mike D'Antoni (Rockets)
• Quin Snyder (Jazz)
• Doc Rivers (Clippers)

Just being realistic here, I think Casey wins it. The Raptors will be the 1-seed in the East and may even end up with the NBA's second-best record given the Warriors' injury report.

It goes beyond that, though. Toronto revamped its system to place less stress on Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The result has been the emergence of the NBA's best bench. DeRozan is also now shooting threes, a big benefit to the Raps' spacing.

Lastly, Casey is a media darling. He's done the podcast circuit this season, and his long tenure as a personable NBA assistant will help him with voters.

Nate McMillan
McMillan's Pacers have overachieved, but that has so much more to do with Victor Oladipo than anything else. That's not meant to discredit McMillan, but the gap between expectations and reality for Oladipo is the reason the Pacers have surprised. Unless the Pacers finish several games ahead of the Sixers, I can't see McMillan finishing ahead of Brown.

Brad Stevens
The Celtics have faded of late, mostly because of mounting injuries to their backcourt. Stevens deserves a ton of credit for keeping this team 25-plus games over .500 with so many young pieces, but he won't finish ahead of Casey.

Doc Rivers
Rivers' case is dependent on whether or not the Clippers make the playoffs. The Clips, based on talent alone, have no business being 38-33 in a loaded West. They just play extremely hard and have been maybe the hungriest NBA team this season — so many contributions from guys on two-way contracts.

But LA is now 2½ games out of the 8-seed, so we can almost close the book on Rivers for COY.

Mike D'Antoni
The Rockets have been the best team this season and D'Antoni is a huge reason why. The Chris Paul addition is a bigger reason why, but the Rockets are where they are because of how Paul has been integrated into D'Antoni's system, and because Houston is finally focused on defense. D'Antoni should finish in the top three of the Coach of the Year voting, but it's hard to win when you add a veteran superstar in the offseason.

Predicted order of finish: Casey, Brown, Snyder, D'Antoni, Stevens, McMillan, Rivers