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Words to watch by (cont.)

Posted: Wednesday April 12, 2006 11:34AM; Updated: Wednesday April 12, 2006 12:18PM
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NBA Announcers' Report Card
Grade Team
A
Indiana Pacers
Al Albert, Clark Kellogg, Quinn Buckner
This is a pretty spectacular crew for a local broadcast, and it always cracks me up to hear Al Albert read off the postgame programming promos in his inimitable Albert-family drawl ("and ... after Gilmore Girls ... it's ... One Tree Hill"). Though Kellogg appears to spend the whole of March in CBS' college basketball studio, he knows the NBA game and remains the rare NBA/NCAA crossover artist (Bill Raftery being the other). Buckner is a brilliant analyst who also gets points for not going out of his way to big-time or second-guess the coaches in his presence. There are enough bitter color analysts out there, ones who remain convinced they can do a better job than half the NBA's coaching fraternity, so Buckner's tact is well received.
A+
Los Angeles Clippers
Ralph Lawler, Michael Smith
Lawler has been calling Clippers games since 1978, and, as you'd expect, he has a pretty healthy sense of humor. His voice, the way he puts together a play-by-play telecast and the tone he chooses to celebrate and/or castigate -- these are the aural equivalents of life as a Los Angeles Clipper. Lawler doesn't waste his time breathlessly bantering about the endless promise that young Clipper after Clipper has shown over the last 28 years. Rather, he manages to distill the lifeblood of Los Angeles' "other" basketball franchise into something worth listening to. Acting as an oral historian of sorts, Lawler captures the absurdities, the fits of brilliance, the disappointments and perpetual bits of frustration that always co-exist alongside the promise of another (better) game to come, another (higher) draft pick to use and another chance at getting it right. This year's Clippers team has gotten it right, and Lawler -- as you'd also expect -- has risen to the occasion.
A-
Los Angeles Lakers
Joel Meyers, Stu Lantz
Meyers is a former Spurs play-by-play man who is in his second season with the Lakers, and though he seemed to spend his first season in L.A. reacquiring the confident tone he showcased in San Antone, he's right back at the top this season. He knows how to control a broadcast and brings a radio guy's timing to a cathode-ray-tube world. Lantz is smooth; he has a light sense of humor and knows his Lakers inside and out.
B-
Memphis Grizzlies
Pete Pranica, Michael Cage
A pretty run-of-the mill announcing team. Pranica gets the job done without much fanfare or histrionics. Cage is pretty solid as well; you can tell he's having fun and he manages to add a little flavor to the otherwise unremarkable broadcasts of the league's slowest team.
C-
Miami Heat
Eric Reid, Tony Fiorentino
Though Reid doesn't preen as much as his counterpart in Charlotte, his FM-radio voice is a constant source of annoyance. It's pretty superficial to dismiss the merits of his on-air contributions based solely on the man's voice (especially considering the stack of Tom Waits CDs currently residing on my desk), but Reid's slick sounds are just too much for these ears. Fiorentino is a solid analyst, sort of a Bob Ortegel Lite, and sideline reporter Jason Jackson may be the best in the biz.
B+
Milwaukee Bucks
Jim Paschke, Jon McGlocklin
These guys are sufferable homers, if you can believe it. They don't like it when the hometown team falls short or when the zebras blow another call, but Jim and Jon manage to keep things light and in perspective. McGlocklin is like Golden State color man Jim Barnett in the way he points out under-the-surface quirks about certain players, and Paschke isn't shy about peppering his color man with questions that might not seem obvious to casual NBA fans. For someone who watches way too much pro basketball, their brand of on-air fodder is much appreciated.
B
Minnesota Timberwolves
Jim Petersen, Tom Hanneman
Hanneman's steady tone has set the pace for Wolves games since their inception, and though the anchorman spent a fair amount of the '80s on a TV news set, you won't find any Champ Kind-isms emanating from his mouth. Petersen is a fine analyst, and an entertaining color man who isn't afraid to take apart his hometown team. Like Steve Jones, he's able to sneak his breakdowns in during downtime (i.e., slower teams walking the ball up court) before deftly handing it off to Hanneman. Petersen also earns points for offering to buy me a bottle of Scotch for a nice column I wrote about the Timberwolves some years ago. Alas, I was under 21 then -- but I would be more than happy to accept any spirits (solicited or otherwise) now.
A
New Jersey Nets
Marv Albert, Mark Jackson
Marv is the dean of NBA mike hounds. I'd tune in to hear him read the Paramus phone book from beginning to end, and that's a healthy attitude to have, considering how lame the Netsies looked until early March. Jackson was born to be a color analyst -- much in the same way he was born to be a point guard, or potentially, an NBA coach. His on-air style reminds us of his time in short pants: sly, endearing, effective and usually the cleverest cat in the general vicinity. Their chemistry isn't quite on par with some of Marv's other pairings (with your Fratellos and your Kerrs), but for a local broadcast, it's certainly a cut above.
B
New Orleans Hornets
Bob Licht, Gil McGregor
This is an anxious and excited duo. They're full of enthusiasm and like to trade jokes. McGregor is the more smart-alecky of the two, but never in a snarky or demeaning way; he just likes having a little fun at, say, Arvydas Macijauskas' expense. Overall, they're a fun listen, which is a welcome respite from the chaos and drama (both the real and the relatively silly kinds) that seem to follow this franchise around.
A
New York Knicks
Mike Breen, Walt Frazier, Kenny Smith
Breen is one of the brighter minds in all of telejournalism. He is able to deconstruct situations as they happen both objectively and critically while staying within the play-by-play flow that his job demands. As a Knicks broadcaster, he tends to be a little critical of needless things like cross-court passes and selfish technical fouls but engages his on-air partners with a litany of intriguing queries. Though the Knicks have been pitiful under Isiah Thomas, and boring as sin under the guidance of Scott Layden, Breen's presence always encourages a tune-in. Frazier is still at the top of his game; he can be the master of the obvious sometimes, but his lilting tone and deft descriptions are top notch. Smith, in his first year as a reserve color man, has an interesting style that, to my surprise, quickly won me over. More of a conversationalist than an analyst, Smith brings a new perspective to a decades-old gig.

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