Does absence really make the heart grow fonder? David Stern and the NBA will find out on Christmas, when the league finally tips off its 2011-12 season.
Avoiding Stern’s nuclear winter, the NBA will begin its lockout-shortened season with a five-pack of high-profile contests. The season starts with Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler and the retooled New York Knicks hosting the hated Boston Celtics, perhaps minus one of its Big Four, Paul Pierce, at the world’s most famous arena. TNT has the coverage at noon.
ABC then takes the spotlight with the 2010 Finals rematch of Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks entertaining the Miami Heat’s Big Three of LeCon James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. The Alphabet then will count on last season’s MVP Derrick Rose and his Chicago Bulls visiting the Los Angeles Lakers — Kobe insists the ligament injury in his right wrist won’t make him a DNP during Coach Mike Brown’s debut — to draw viewers in the 5 p.m. window.
While the afternoon match-ups certainly are alluring, they only have to fight off presents, Christmas dinner and all the trimmings for TV time. At night, it’s a different playing field. The Orlando Magic, which for now still sports Dwight Howard at center, is taking on this year’s “it” team, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s Oklahoma City Thunder at 8 p.m. on ESPN, followed by the Staples Center’s “now” crew of CP3 and Blake Griffen, as the Los Angeles Clippers travel to Mark Jackson’s Golden State Warriors in the nightcap at 10:30 p.m. on the worldwide leader.
Unlike last year when the NFL Network was in play with Dallas-Arizona, this time both of the cable contests face NBC’s Nielsen juggernaut, Sunday Night Football. TV’s top series pits the NFL’s oldest rivals, as the Green Bay Packers invite the Chicago Bears to legendary Lambeau Field. It’s the only game on Roger Goodell’s slate, but some of the bloom may fall off of the ratings rose because Romeo Crennel’s Kansas City Chiefs knocked Aaron Rodgers’ Pack from the unbeaten ranks last Sunday, ending Green Bay’s pursuit of perfection. That may entice some of the casual viewers to opt for OKC or the prospective Clippers’ lob-fest, instead of the football game.
That’s not to say that NBC isn’t going to handily win the day and likely surpass its average audience of 21 million through 16 games thus far in the 2011 campaign. But at least the NBA contests now have a chance. Santa Stern should say thanks to Romeo for the holiday gift.
The following is Nielsen’s list for last year’s NBA quintuple-header: a 1.8 national rating for Knicks-Bulls at noon; a 4.6 for Celts-Magic at 2:30 p.m.; a 6.4 for Lakers-Heat at 5:30 p.m.; a 1.4 for Thunder-Denver Nuggets at 8 p.m.; and a 1.3 for Warriors-Portland in the nightcap. NFL Network’s Cowboys-Cardinals contest tackled 7.8 million viewers.