Reynolds Rap

RSN Roundball: The East

11/07/2008 11:21 AM

The 2008-09 NBA season is little more than a week old. Last year’s finalists have gotten off to good starts, while up-and-comers Utah and New Orleans continue their rise. Detroit had driven to a 4-0 start of its own, before Allen Iverson suited up for the first time tonight as a Piston in a loss at the Izod Center.

The following is an attempt to provide select Answers to why squads’ Nielsen fortunes should ascend or descend against last year’s results on regional sports networks.

Today: the Eastern Conference.

ATLANTIC
It should be a mixed ratings bag in the Atlantic Division. The champion Celtics scored a 113% jump to a 3.4 household rating in the Boston DMA for Comcast SportsNet New England last year. The Big 3 and the rest of the Cs look hungry to defend their crown, which should lift the regional higher..

Another Comcast RSN grabbed a 27% bump to a 1.4 mark with the Philadelphia 76ers. Last season’s trade for Andre Miller keyed a playoff appearance and with Elton Brand in the house, on-court expectations are up. The club’s 2-4 start notwithstanding, Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia should realize another advance this time around

The forecast isn’t quite as sanguine in the Big Apple. YES’s coverage of the New Jersey Nets declined to 0.5 average in the New York DMA from a 0.7. The team has imported a host of new players, as only three, including Vinsanity, remain from last year’s entry. If things gel quickly, there should be an audience uptick. But a slow start could spell further ratings erosion for a franchise that continues to wait for Bruce Ratner’s building to grow in Brooklyn. Yeah…and there’s a bridge for sale in the borough, too.  

With Mike D’Antoni at the helm, this year’s New York Knicks should be more interesting than Isaiah Thomas’ 2007-08 sleepwalkers, which ultimately shed viewers to the tune of a 1.0 mark on MSG, from a 1.37 the prior year. But run and stun only goes so far with a roster that’s essentially the same and not nearly up to snuff. New York’s hungry for a hardcourt winner and there could be a big Nielsen upside. Otherwise, the Stephon Marbury soap opera is worth a few tenths of points and more could come if D’Antoni proves he’s too thin-skinned for Manhattan.

Jermaine O’Neal’s acquisition should raise the Raptors and make for a nice team in Toronto. Alas, no Nielsens from north of the border.

SOUTHEAST
The NBA’s weakest division on the court figures to provide some ratings deficiencies.  

Gilbert Arenas is a gunner and injured again. And the Washington Wizards may play better without him, but O’s needed for a Nielsen bounce. Last season, Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic was down 36% to a 0.9 average. An 0-4 start doesn’t lend itself to long-term Nielsen improvement here.

Just three seasons from an NBA title, the Miami Heat return just Dwayne Wade and Udonis Haslem from the 2006 champions. With Shaq sunning in Phoenix and D-Wade injured, the Heat weren’t hot: setting to a franchise-low 15 wins last season and a 2.0 average for Sun Sports, down from 3.5 the prior season. The addition of Michael Beasley and a full  season of Shawn Marion could help, but Wade has to stay healthy and play out of his mind for this group to show dramatic gains on the hardwood and on the small screen.

The Charlotte Bobcats would certainly be more entertaining if owner and former BET boss Bob Johnson, part-owner, president Michael Jordan and coach Larry Brown were playing. But the team might gain a bit of a home-court advantage with viewers during its rookie season on Fox Sports Carolinas, which was recently carved out from Fox Sports South.  

Last season, the Atlanta Hawks made the playoffs for the first time since 1999. The young team averaged a 1.0 mark on both Fox Sports South (up from a 0.6) and Sports South (a 0.5). Sports Illustrated predicts regression to 11th in the conference, while ESPN The Magazine projects an eighth-place repeat. With a perfect start, ratings should push up further — but not as a high as Josh Smith’s vertical.

Pulling a fast start of its Stan Van Gundy’s hat, Orlando had enough Magic to win the Southeast as Sun Sports averaged a 1.9, 19% above the 1.6 in 2006-07 season. Dwight Howard might have been Superman in the dunk contest last February, but he doesn’t catch the ball very well and his offensive arsenal extends only a few feet from the rim. As the hunted, the Magic doesn’t show nearly as much improvement. Nor does the regional.

CENTRAL
The division has two of the East’s three best squads, two that will vie to get into the David Stern’s dance and one that doesn’t appear to be especially good. Let’s go from reverse to first.

It only took one season for Milwaukee to pass the Buck on would-be Chinese star Yi Jianlian. Richard Jefferson, a solid player, arrives in his place from Jersey. Despite a 26-56 mark, FSN North Wisconsin got a 54% bump with the Bucks to a 2.0 from a 1.3. The club should be somewhat better, but the ratings won’t shoot up at last season’s rate.

The Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls should be in the hunt for final playoff spot(s) in the conference. The Pacers have just entrusted Danny Granger to a big money deal and a return trip to the playoffs. Nevertheless, FSN Midwest inched up to a 1.7 last season from a 1.6. There will be more Nielsens in the house this time around.

The Bulls were a popular pick to make a deep run in the East last season, but collapsed mightily under the expectations. Comcast SportsNet Chicago’s fortunes fell accordingly: down 19% to a 1.8. Derrick Rose, the No. 1 pick in the draft, will experience point-guard growing pains and the Bulls remain small. The ratings gain could be as well.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have the best player in the game this side of Kobe Bryant. But the brilliance of LeBron James couldn’t stop FSN Ohio from dropping to a 3.9 average from a 4.8. Now with a better supporting cast, the James Gang should produce more for the regional, too, in 2008-09.

As alluded to above, the Pistons acquired Iverson from Denver for Chauncey Billups and Antonio McDyess. To the degree, the power forward can manage to work his way back to the Motor City, the trade will greatly favor Detroit in the short term. Either way, the roster revamp makes the Pistons more telegenic and the game’s all-top scoring small man adds plenty of GRPs to FSN Detroit’s haul, which shrank to a 3.7 last season from a 5.0.

Next: The West

September