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2 posts from June 14, 2013

June 14, 2013

NBA Finals media column: WPLG cheats viewers; ABC bristles at TNT comparisons

Here's the Friday media column. Please see the last post for notes, quotes and postscripts from Game 4.


Media news and views from The NBA Finals:

### While most of the country was watching Magic Johnson and the ABC pre-game analysts discuss Game 2 of the Finals on Sunday night, South Florida viewers were suffering the indignity of watching a WPLG-Channel 10 reporter interview a puppet about the Heat-Spurs series.

Preempting ABC’s 30-minute NBA pregame show to air its own, as WPLG has done through much of these Finals, is irritating enough. But doing so to air a broadcast comprised mostly of mindless, pom-pom waving fluff is especially galling, and WPLG should be embarrassed.

Thankfully, Channel 10 decided to show ABC's pregame show for Game 4 and will do the same for Game 5, but not necessarily Game 6. But that was only because WPLG did not believe it could come up with enough material to fill a pre-game show from the road.

If you missed Channel 10’s Finals pre-game show earlier in the series (aside from the short segment competently handled by sports anchor Will Manso), consider yourself lucky. Besides the talking puppet, you missed anchor Calvin Hughes telling us “how pumped up the fans are.” (You don’t say?)

You missed irrelevant interviews with random fans opining about who would win. You missed a WPLG reporter asking a sports bar owner “if it will be loud in here” during the game. (And, no, he wasn’t kidding.)

In sum, you missed some of the most inane television you’ll ever witness.

There’s nothing objectionable with Channel 10 preempting the 30-minute ABC entertainment program that airs at 8 p.m. before 9 p.m. Finals games so it can inject local flavor into Heat coverage. That’s what affiliates do when your network has a championship series, and your team is participating.

But by extending that program to shortly before tipoff, WPLG shortchanges viewers curious to hear the national perspective from ABC’s Johnson, Michael Wilbon, Jalen Rose and Bill Simmons, and watch feature stories prepared by ESPN announcers. (ABC’s San Antonio affiliate is doing the same thing.)

To accommodate South Florida viewers, ABC has moved its pre-game show to ESPN2 in Dade and Broward homes with cable or satellite service. But Channel 10 hasn’t done enough to make viewers aware of that, and some viewers insist they’re not getting the pre-game on ESPN2.

Because of the ESPN/ABC/NBA contract, Manso – who had nothing to with this decision – was banished from the AmericanAirlines Arena court before Game 1 and had to stand outside in the rain to do his standup.

A station official said WPLG can make more in ad revenue by producing its own pregame show instead of airing ABC’s.

Asked why Channel 10 preempted ABC's pre-game show for the first three games of the series, WPLG general manager Dave Boylan said: “It allows South Florida viewers to get in-depth local reporting they cannot get from any other source.” But the content isn’t close to the quality of ABC’s.

A WPLG official said ABC is annoyed with Channel 10 for doing this. But an ABC publicist expressed no anger publicly, saying the local station reserves the right to preempt ABC programming.


The comparisons between ABC’s and TNT’s studio shows are inevitable, and it’s a battle ABC cannot win, because Charles Barkley and the Turner cast mix analysis with comedy and entertainment more skillfully than any pregame or postgame show in network sports television history.

While TNT’s cast has remained stable, aside from adding Shaquille O’Neal two years ago, ABC/ESPN has continued to tinker, with Simmons and Rose joining the cast this season.

ESPN president John Skipper said several months ago that Barkley “is a tough act to compete with. What we’re trying to do is let them be the entertaining show. We’ll be the smarty pants show.” Wilbon, in fact, calls Johnson “the smartest person I’ve ever dealt with in basketball.”

(But Magic has made several head-scratching comments, such as this one a few months ago: “Until the Knicks hate the Heat like the Bulls hate the Heat, they can’t beat them.” Huh?)

The members of the ABC cast dislike comparisons to the TNT show as much as Barkley dislikes “whiny” Heat fans.

“Their shows come on so late, it’s supposed to be different,” Wilbon said this past week. “It’s like late night television. So Shaq comes out and does Kung Fu moves. I’m laughing my butt off at that. We’re not that. We’re on an all-sports network. We’re supposed to be different.

“I like them for what they are, and I like us I hope for what we’re becoming. We have broad range. We’re not going to be at the level of entertainment they are. If you don’t have Barkley and Shaq, you shouldn’t be doing that.”

Wilbon bristles when fans suggest to him on Twitter that the ABC analysts “hate” their TNT counterparts, and vice versa.

“I’ve gone after people on Twitter” about that, Wilbon said. “I have longstanding relationships with all the [TNT studio analysts]. I text Kenny and Charles during their show.”

### ABC sideline reporter Doris Burke has become the model for asking concise, precise questions, without clumsy lead-ins or pontification.

She also had avoided becoming the latest sideline reporter to draw the ire of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who sometimes seems to take perverse pleasure in embarrassing the poor soul assigned to interview him after the first or third quarter.

Conducting those in-game interviews with Popovich “is absolutely scary,” Burke said last week. “Every time I go over there, I am in abject terror. My one thought is: Just don’t make him angry.”

Burke said when Popovich seems annoyed by a question, “I try very hard not to take it personally because I know he doesn’t mean his reactions personally. And each time we speak off air, there’s great rapport and respect between us. Off the court, he is one of my favorite people to talk to in the NBA – smart, funny, engaging.”

At issue is Popovich’s philosophical objection to participating in those NBA-mandated interviews during TNT, ABC or ESPN telecasts.

“He objects to the interview, but it’s not optional for him,” Burke said. “Unfortunately for me, it’s not optional for us, either. If he wants to change it, it’s going to come from someone with a heck of a lot more power than I’ve got, because I’ve got zero power.”

The best Burke/Popovich exchange so far? When she asked him: “What are you asking of your defense against LeBron James?,” he said: “I can’t tell you.”

### Ratings continue to lag behind last year's Heat-Thunder Finals, but all four games of Heat-Spurs have been the most watched TV programs on those nights.

Notes, quotes postscripts from Heat's Game 4 win

Notes, quotes and postscripts from the Heat’s 109-93 Game 4 win over San Antonio in the NBA Finals:

### What a magnificent display by The Big Three, whose collective numbers were jaw-dropping: 85 points, 30 rebounds, 10 steals, 9 assists and 5 blocks.

Dwyane Wade (32 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 6 steals) became the first player with at least 30 points and 6 steals in a Finals game since Isiah Thomas in 1988.

Chris Bosh not only had 20 points, but hauled in 13 rebounds (third-most of the postseason), blocked two shots and played sharp defense on Tim Duncan.

And LeBron James not only shook out of his offensive malaise with 33 points but also had 11 boards. The last player to post those numbers in a Finals game? Dirk Nowitzki, against the Heat in 2011.

“All of them provided great energy defensively,” Erik Spoelstra said.

“When Bosh, Wade and James score the way they did tonight, and shoot it the way they did, you better be playing a more perfect game,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “You can’t turn it over that many times [19, leading to 23 Heat points].”

### Per ESPN, Wade and James are the first teammates to score at least 30 points apiece in a road Finals win since Kobe and Shaq in 2002.

### This was huge: Tony Parker (15 pounds) went scoreless in the second half, shooting 0 for 4. Parker said his hamstring felt “OK” in the first half.

“Second half, I got fatigued. I’m just happy I didn’t make it worse. Pop wasn’t really happy I wanted to play. Took a little risk.”

### The Heat has now won 12 in a row after losses, by an average margin of nearly 19 per game. “When things get rough, we pull together even more,” Bosh said.

### Here was Wade’s take after becoming the first player with 30 points, 5 rebounds and 5 steals in a playoff game since Byron Scott in 1989 (and the fifth player in NBA Finals history to do that, according to Elias): “I needed a game like this, but my teammates needed a game like this from me. They needed me to play the way I’m capable of. They needed the Big Three to play the way we’re capable of.

“We’re not going to win this series if myself, Chris and LeBron don’t show up to play on a consistent basis. Hopefully, this is what we can see the next three games.”

Wade, who shot 14 for 25, said his approach was “being aggressive. If I’m open, I’m shooting it. Defensively, we were more active. I knew I was on when I took it over a guy’s head and dunked it. That was the vintage [Wade] there. You’re judged as a man by how you respond. Our team responded well, and I responded well.”

Said Duncan: “Wade got everything he wanted.”

Said Parker: “That’s what great players do – they show up in big games. He played great.”

Wade said he used hot packs on his injured knee – for the first time during a game in this series – and that helped keep the knee loose.

### LeBron, who finished 15 for 25 from the field: “When all three of us are clicking at the same time, we’re a very tough team to beat…. I came in the game confident… We can’t wait every time until our back is against the wall to respond.”

James, who hadn’t reached 20 points in any of the first three games, said: “It hurt to watch the film. I didn’t like how I was playing. But I came in with a clean slate tonight.”

### LeBron, on Wade: “Every time he’s doubted, he responds. For him to play the way he played tonight, it was amazing. He went back in his bag tonight. He was Flash tonight. He’s been playing with a bum knee all year. Of course he’s hurting. But a performance like tonight will make him feel better. He was amazing. He was ’06 Flash tonight. We needed every bit of it.”

### Spoelstra’s insertion of Mike Miller into his starting lineup, in place of Udonis Haslem, did not deliver a boost to start the game, and Miller ended up having his worst night of the series statistically (no points, 0 for 1 shooting in 21 minutes).

But the lineup decision certainly did not hurt the Heat, and everything ultimately worked out.

The Heat played with only one natural power rotation player on the court for the entire game, and that helped Miami’s spacing.

Because of that, “I was able to get in the paint a lot more,” Bosh said. “If I bring the necessary energy, things will go well.”

“We need Chris to be big [with those lineups],” Spoelstra said. “Defensively, battling against a Hall of Famer really gave us a boost.”

### The new starting lineup was outscored by 11 when it was on the floor. But that was mostly the result of Parker's fast start against Mario Chalmers. The Heat’s ball movement was generally crisp with Miller in the game, and he had a terrific block on a Kawhi Leonard shot that led to a James dunk early in the third.

### The lineup change also had a ripple effect. Spoelstra used Haslem off the bench, reinserted Shane Battier back into the rotation, and did not use Chris Andersen for the first time this postseason.

Haslem committed five fouls in 10 minutes, but he had five rebounds and Miami was plus 10 with Haslem on the floor, plus-13 with Battier (who had two points), and plus 19 with Ray Allen, who scored 14.

### Miller starting led to an interesting early chess match between Spoelstra and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

Oddly enough, 6-11 center Tiago Splitter began the game defending 6-4 Wade. “I was glad I had the ball in my hand,” Wade said. “I was going to go right at him.”

But after Splitter fouled Wade 47 seconds into the game, Popovich replaced him with 6-4 Gary Neal.

And Popovich started the second half with 6-8 forward Boris Diaw in place of Splitter.

### Haslem had been the Heat’s best defender against Duncan in this series, but Duncan did not capitalize on his absence to start the game. Guarded by Bosh, Duncan missed his only shot in a scoreless first quarter. He scored seven in the third and closed with 20.

### Wade and James endorsed the lineup change before the game. “Whenever Mike is on the floor, it always helps us,” Wade said. “It makes the defense have to think about something different than just protecting the paint when we’ve got a shooter out there. We loved when they’re out there and we’ve got to get them more shots.”

Said James: “It opens up the floor. It gives me more driving lanes and it gives D-Wade more driving lanes.”

### Popovich: “The turnovers obviously hurt us. We can’t give us 20 points on turnovers.” And the Heat won the rebound battle, 41-36.

### Manu Ginobili continued struggling (5 points, 1 for 5 shooting). “He’s trying to be incredibly unselfish,” Duncan said. “We need him to be a little more selfish.”