TV guide to the NBA Finals
With the Heat and Thunder, this year's NBA Finals should draw large TV audiences
ESPN is bringing former referee Steve Javie in as a studio analyst for the Finals
Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy will call the games, with Doris Burke reporting
Hate sells on television, and last year's NBA Finals between Dallas and Miami averaged 17.3 million viewers over six games, making it the league's second-most-viewed championship series since the Pistons-Lakers in 2004 (17.9 million viewers) and only slightly behind the seven-game series in 2010 between the big-market Celtics and Lakers (18.1 million viewers).
With the star power of Miami and the majority of the audience rooting against LeBron James and Co., expect this year's Thunder-Heat showdown to draw very high interest, even with Oklahoma City's ranking as the 44th biggest television market in the United States.
While SI.com's basketball posse will preview the action on the court, we're here with a question-and-answer session to help guide you through the television coverage:
Is ESPN/ABC doing anything different with its coverage this year?
As SI.com reported on Sunday night, ESPN has hired former NBA referee Steve Javie to work as a studio analyst for the NBA Finals. Though based in a studio in Bristol and likely to show up during the pregame and postgame, ESPN said the flexibility exists to bring Javie on during games if news warrants. "So much attention during the playoffs and the regular season to a certain degree has been officiating," said Mark Gross, the ESPN senior vice president who oversees the network's NBA coverage. "It's been a storyline throughout the season, and we thought that we'd be a little smarter and make our viewers a little smarter if we had a former official there."
What else is new?
Every game this year is accessible online at WatchESPN.com, on smartphones and tablets via the WatchESPN app and through ESPN on Xbox LIVE.
What time will the games start?
Games on Tuesday and Thursday (Games 1, 2, 4, 5 and 7) will tip at 9 p.m. ET. The Sunday night games (Games 3 and 6) will tip at 8 p.m. ET.
Who will be calling the games?
The first-rate announcing crew consists of game-caller Mike Breen, analyst Jeff Van Gundy and reporter Doris Burke. Asked about the interest in the series, Van Gundy cracked: "I'm confident with Mike Breen, LeBron James and Kevin Durant, the ratings will soar."
What does Van Gundy think of the LeBron James-Durant storyline?
"Well, it's certainly a great matchup," Van Gundy said. "You can make a compelling argument that [they are] the two best players in the league. But what can't be argued is that they're the two best small forwards in the league. Whenever you have such greatness at one position that is going to match up head to head, it's certainly intriguing. But this is going to be about which team plays better. I think one could actually outplay the other, and let the other team win. Both guys carry a heavy burden for their teams, but not the only burden.
"Oklahoma City is coming in here hungry and healthy with incredible speed, quickness, length and athleticism, and led by one of the most humble stars in any sport in Kevin Durant. Then I think LeBron James, how he held that team together through the Chris Bosh injury and through the up and downs of two incredibly tough series against Indiana and Boston, showed just what a great, great leader he is, as well as a great player. So I think it's going to be a great individual matchup for the fans to focus on. But the teams are only focused on the end result."
So who does Van Gundy favor in the series?
"I think it's a fairly evenly matched series," Van Gundy said. "I think Oklahoma City has greater depth up front in their big position. But when you trot out James, [Dwayne] Wade and Bosh, you surround them with a lot of three-point shooting and you're as well coached as Miami is, you've got a great chance to win it all. "
Do either Breen or Van Gundy have a special affinity for any of the players in the series?
"For Jeff, there are guys that played for him, like Shane Battier," Breen said of the Heat forward who played for Van Gundy in Houston. "Jeff will go on and on and on about how he's one of the great teammates and great professionals that he's ever coached. [Heat power forward and former Rocket] Juwan Howard, same type of thing. He's got great relationships with those guys. They played for him, they did everything for him, and he really loved what they stood for.
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"For me, one of the guys that I love and he's been one of my favorite players for a long time is [Thunder center] Kendrick Perkins. People see him on the court as this mean, surly, always-in-a-bad-mood player, and he's just the opposite off. He really is a thinking man's player. He's very smart. He's polite and nice and actually funny, and people don't see that. That is one of the reasons I root for him because he gets on the court, and all he cares about is winning. If he had a point or a rebound, he just wants to win. For me, he's the guy that I really like, and I wish fans knew that side of him."
Are the interviews with the coaches and players between quarters and postgame worth my time?
Absolutely. As we first wrote in 2002, Burke never cheats viewers when it comes to her work. She asks direct and purposeful questions. After LeBron scored 45 points in Miami's season-saving victory in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, she asked James the following: "What is it like knowing that regardless of what happens with the team, the failure rests on your shoulders?" It was a fantastic question, and you see LeBron is startled for a split second by it because, I imagine, it's not the usual softballs lobbed his way. Burke is one of the few people in all of sports broadcasting who can shift seamlessly between analyst and game reporter. Whatever ESPN is paying her, the network should double it.
What should I know about ESPN's pregame and postgame studio shows?
ESPN's Countdown show has taken hits from some critics for centering the conversation on Magic Johnson, and the Yao Ming-sized deference and genuflecting that Michael Wilbon shows the former Lakers star on a nightly basis. The show's conversational flow remains uneven, and it can only improve if the focus is removed from Johnson, who is far better as an ensemble player than the studio star.
Will things be changing? No. Gross and ESPN have invested a lot in this group, including moving the pregame to a Los Angeles home base and committing to a show without a traditional host (a philosophy that can work with the right grouping.) For the Finals, ESPN will be on-site for pregame, halftime and postgame shows with analysts Jon Barry, Chris Broussard, Johnson and Wilbon. The pregame show will begin 30 minutes before each game broadcast.
What other ESPN talent will be in Oklahoma City?
SportsCenter will feature on-site reports hosted by Stuart Scott and Sage Steele and analysis from the pregame crew. Analysts Bruce Bowen, Tim Legler, Chris Mullin, Kurt Rambis, and Jalen Rose will provide studio analysis from Bristol. ESPN has also delivered its morning Gong Show crew -- the cast of First Take -- to do segments from the Finals cities. The stench of that flotsam should dissipate around tip-off.
Who will be handling the postgame ceremony on ABC?
Is that a good thing?
Scott will do what he does but we always prefer a reporter in that role. Burke would be our choice to interview the winners.
Will ESPN/ABC employ any cool cameras?
The network says there'll be a SkyCam providing aerial views of the action, six Super Slo Mo cameras and "ESPN Axis" for creating virtual replays (which is video from live action processed via computers to create virtual freeze frames from multiple angles).
They'll be plenty of people rooting against James. Does anyone at ESPN have advice for him to fix that perception nationwide?
"One thing I think that's helped him is he stopped trying to fix it," Van Gundy said. "He's come out, I believe, and said he probably should have done it a little bit differently. So to me he's apologized.
"Now I don't think he should try to do more. I think realizing that some people are going to always find fault is the way of the world. Social media, to me, has played a major role in that. To get past that and just keep doing what you're doing and be accountable to yourself, and those you care deeply about, that's all you should worry about. I think he's done some great things on and off the court in Cleveland and in Akron. I understand why they keep harboring resentment. But other than that, I don't understand any other fan. I just don't get it."
So does the author want to take a guess at the ratings for the series?
Sure. I'll predict it will be a long series (Thunder in seven) and given a majority of the country enjoys rooting against the Heat, let's go with an average of 18.0 million viewers.
Can I listen to the games on radio?
Yes, and we encourage it because the game crew is fantastic featuring the three-man booth of Jim Durham and analysts Dr. Jack Ramsay and Hubie Brown. (We'd listen to Hall of Famers Brown and Ramsay analyze the phone book.) Studio hosts Marc Kestecher and Will Perdue are solid pros. This is a very strong radio group.
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