NBA Championship Carriage Consolation

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It might not be Kobe and LeBron and the level of Nielsen love that would have come from a Cleveland-Los Angeles Finals, but the NBA scored big today.

The pro hoops league bookended the start of its playoffs and tonight’s championship round with renewal deals for its in-house service with the nation’s two largest distributors.

Back on April 16, NBA TV announced a pact that will push the service from DirecTV’s Choice Xtra package from its Premier Package and Sports Pack in time for the tipoff of the 2009-10 season. NBA TV will pick up another 8 million subscribers with the DBS leader as a result.

Similarly, the Philadelphia 76ers owner today said the network will move to Comcast’s Digital Classic from its sport tier, raising its game to 10.8 million subscribers from 2 million, when next season starts.

Those moves — evidently fueled by the league dropping about a dime per subscriber from monthly license fee from around 35 cents under earlier pacts — and with others to follow, should push NBA TV’s roster to some 30 million come fall.

Cable has already been very good to the NBA this season, with TNT and ESPN establishing new ratings and viewer marks for their coverage of the first three playoff rounds. Indeed, the cable carriers surpassed ABC’s audience on a number of occasions this spring.

In the meantime, ABC will need an upset from Stan Van Gundy’s Orlando crew tonight at Staples in order for The Finals to get within three-point distance of last year’s numbers.

For those who have lost their Nielsen scorecard, ABC notched an 8.7 rating and 13.4 million with Game 1 of last year’s marquee matchup between old rivals LA and Boston. Over six games, the 2008 Finals generated a 9.4 rating and just under 15 million viewers on average.