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Published: Saturday, 4/19/2003

Most of NBA playoffs on cable

The National Hockey League and Major League Baseball are familiar with the routine of having the majority of their playoff games broadcast on cable stations.

The National Basketball Association, a longtime major network fixture, officially becomes acquainted with the practice when the playoffs tip off this weekend.

With the first round of the playoffs getting under way a total of eight games will be televised over the next two days. Only one is slated to air on “free” TV. The three-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers will face the Minnesota Timberwolves tomorrow and the game will air at 3:30 p.m. on local ABC affiliate, WTVG-TV, Channel 13.

The seven other playoff games will be televised on either ESPN or TNT, the two cable stations primarily responsible for broadcasting games during the regular season. This is the first season for the NBA's six-year, $4 billion TV deal with ABC, ESPN and TNT.

The two cable networks could possibly account for televising more than 70 playoff games this spring. TNT could end up broadcasting more than 40 over a 40-night span while ESPN is scheduled to televise as many as 31. Nevertheless, ABC, which aired only 14 regular-season games, has the exclusive rights for the NBA Finals series.

As was the case with the NHL and MLB, a steady decline in the ratings for the NBA on its former network, NBC, ultimately led the league to signing a TV deal that basically provides more television dates but with most being aired on cable.

The ratings for the NBA on ESPN and TNT during the regular season earned a passing grade. NBA telecasts on ESPN and TNT led to ratings increases for both cable stations from a year earlier. ESPN posted a 1.20 rating for 69 regular-season games, which represented an increase of 54 percent for the time slots from a 0.78 for the 2001-02 season. Among men 18-34, the increase was 100 percent, from 0.63 to 1.26. Among men 18-49, the increase was 80 percent, from 0.61 to 1.10.

TNT's ratings for Thursday night games improved 20 percent from a year earlier.

The two teams that end up in the NBA Finals will more than likely play a major factor in determining what type of ratings ABC will pull in for its first season as the exclusive home for the Finals. A Lakers-Boston Celtics or Philadelphia 76ers matchup would probably produce the best TV ratings. In fact, ABC officials probably have their fingers crossed in hopes of the Lakers making it back to the NBA Finals to attempt winning a fourth straight championship.

ABC/ESPN analyst Bill Walton, like most NBA followers, believes the 2002-03 NBA champion will come from the Western Conference. The Lakers, San Antonio and Sacramento are the teams he thinks have the best chance of winning it all. However, Walton, who was in Toledo recently, also said to watch out for Philadelphia and Indiana.

Ex-Toledoan after Emmy:

Mike Thomsen, a 1988 Whitmer High graduate, is up for a regional Emmy award in the Ohio Valley chapter. Thomsen, the executive sports producer for the Ohio News Network in Columbus, received a nomination for excellence in sports producing.

Prior to working for ONN Thomsen spent more than 10 years working in the Toledo market. He's a former employee of WTOL-TV (Channel 11), WUPW-TV (Channel 36) and WNWO-TV, (Channel 24).

Channel changing:

Undefeated world lightweight champion Floyd Mayweather (29-0, 20 KOs) meets Victoriano Sosa (35-2-2, 26 KOs) in a 12-round championship bout on HBO tonight at 10.

The first game of a four-game homestand at Fifth Third Field for the Toledo Mud Hens against Norfolk will take place tonight at 7 and will be televised on Buckeye Cable's TV5.

The Lexington Stakes and Federico Tesio Stakes will air on ESPN2 this evening at 6.



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