Lakers Lead-in


Kobe and crew visit the Q and the LeBrons today at 3:30 p.m. (ET). It’s a high-profile matchup that should cap a very strong ratings week for the NBA.

In the final game of what has been an undefeated East Coast swing, the Lakers and their leaders have rung up some big-time performances over the past few days.

With center Andrew Bynum out for eight to 12 weeks with a knee injury, Kobe went crazy at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 2, stealing some of the Super Bowl thunder from the Steelers, with a 61-point outburst. That was a scoring record in the “world’s most famous arena” and regional sports network MSG reaped the benefits with a 2.09 household rating in the New York DMA, the Knicks’ best ratings performance since March 16, 2007.

The record stood for two days, when The King came to court at the Garden. A statistician stripped James of a rebound and the NBA’s first triple double, topped by a 50-point (52, actually for LeBron) performance, since Kareem Abdul Jabbar put up that distinction in 1975. What couldn’t be erased was MSG’s 2.55 household rating in the Big Apple on Feb. 4, the best for a Knicks game since Nov. 9, 2004.

Then on Thursday Feb 5, Kobe and the Lakers visited the defending champion Celtics in Boston, where they had ended the Big Three’s 19-game win streak on Christmas Day.  NBA commissioner David Stern and ESPN/ABC Sports topper George Bodenheimer received their presents, as The Finals rematch dunked a 5.3 national rating and 9.98 million viewers, the league’s top regular-season mark in four years.

On Feb. 5, Kobe hit a trio of three balls in the fourth quarter to set the stage for Lamar Odom’s pair of free throws that gave the Lakers a sweep of the season series with a 110-109 OT triumph (KG fouled out with five minutes left in regulation), as LA sank another Boston winning skein, this one at a dozen. In the process, LA-Boston drew 4.3 million viewers, the most for TNT with an NBA regular-season game since 1996, when Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls entertained Magic Johnson’s Lakers.

As for today’s matchup on ABC, Bryant and brood are looking to end Cleveland’s unbeaten streak at home at 23 –  an impressive feat but one that still has a ways to go to match the 37 in a row the Bulls and MJ (there’s that guy again) rang up before losing at American Airlines in 1996. (Boston’s 1985-86 NBA champions hold the all-time NBA mark at home at 40-1.)

A victory would give the Lakers a sweep (appropriate, with this being February) of the Cavs as well, as LA easily handled Cleveland in the second half at Staples on Martin Luther King night. That game, the fourth of four nationally televised contests on Jan. 19, was ESPN’s highest-rated of the season, averaging 3.7 million watchers and the most on cable since 2004 for a regular-season game.

Moreover, best-in-the-game bragging rights (Dwayne Wade’s in the argument, too) and perhaps home court advantage come June are on the line in Cleveland.

At the very least, the Nielsens should be strong enough to generate a disclaimer to the effect that this is “the NBA’s highest-rated regular season game not involving Lakers-Celtics on Christmas 2008 since…”

Who knows how much of a qualification will be needed from the Q today.