Not if David Stern and ESPN want to maximize the Nielsens with the Western Conference finals.
The Grizzlies, after falling prey to last-second heroics by Manu Ginobli and Gary Neal at the end of regulation in Game 5 to keep San Antonio alive for one more contest, likely closed the door on the Tim Duncan-led Spurs as serious title contenders for good at FedEx Forum, just off Beale Street in Memphis, on Friday night. Some 36 hours later, Zack Randolph, Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Shane Battier and crew were at it again, quieting the Thunder in Oklahoma City in Game 1 on ABC.
Granted, the Nielsen DMA trade-off would be minimal - Memphis is No. 48, while OKC ranks 45th (Chris Paul’s NOLA Hornets play in No. 51). But the preferred script now calls for Disney teammates ESPN and ABC’s exclusive presentation of Western Conference finals to be a showcase between the NBA’s two-time top scorer Kevin Durant and his explosive running mate Russell Westbrook, versus the L.A. Lakers. Whether Durant can live up to the “next” mantle by shaking Ron Artest and have the Thunder take the measure of the Lakers is a giant leap given the two-time defending champions’ length and as Mark Jackson is wont to say, “momma, there goes that man,” Kobe Bryant.
I know, I’m getting a little ahead of matters. LA also has to defuse Dirk Nowitski’s Dallas Mavericks (hey, Mark Cuban’s team is playing better D than ever and that gives them a chance, while Big D’s No. 5 DMA ranking shouldn’t be overlooked either). But as interesting as a Gasol brothers family feud might be, I’m sure the execs in Bristol and Olympic Tower would favor OKC meeting LA out West, before the Lakers square off against their nemesis, the Boston Celtics, or that team from Miami, Fla. in The Finals.
For their part, Turner executives have to at least feign being conflicted — for six games worth or so — before ultimately rooting against the hometown Atlanta Hawks in their match-up with Derrick Rose’s Chicago Bulls. Clearly, market No. 3, home to the game’s most exciting player, is the choice over DMA No. 8 to square off against the Celtics-Heat survivor in what would make for quite an intriguing exclusive Eastern Conference final.