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This postseason may be a television turning point for the National Basketball Association, which for the past four years has focused on its cable coverage. TNT, ESPN and ABC are showing substantial ratings increases caused by a potent mixture of stars and close games.Mike Wise is shelling out some credit to Mike D'Antoni and Don Nelson:
A record nine games went into overtime and 14 were decided by 2 points or fewer. And three of the four conference semifinal series went to seven games. "I think this is a watershed year, and you'll see this as a continuing process as long as teams stay competitive," said David Levy, the president of Turner Sports, whose TNT has carried 39 playoff games. "I think the N.B.A. is on the rebound here."
Levy has reason to be cheerful. TNT's playoff rating is up 12 percent to a 2.9, the same increase for its average viewership, which is 3.4 million.
By the way, when you read that article, watch out for Walton at the end, saying little guys are the future of the league. How many times has he told us Yao Ming is the future of the league? Yao's not too little.
Nelson no longer coaches Dallas and D'Antoni has but three years under his belt in Phoenix. But both visionaries were told their crazy offensive ideas about building a championship-caliber team were flawed and unconventional, if not foolish. Sometime in the mid-1990s, the playoffs became more about stopping your opponent than outscoring it. And a team without a bona fide big man was not supposed to last into May.
That thinking made Nelson and D'Antoni outcasts in their own profession, the picked-on brainy kids in gym class. In a copycat league where defense and intimidation were king, they forged ahead anyway, sometimes for the betterment of the game more than their own franchises.
Tonight, in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, their innovation will be rewarded. Dallas and Phoenix staved off superior big men in Game 7s and now will play for a berth in the NBA Finals. It's just wild to think two "small ball" squads are eight wins from a championship. The larger prize for D'Antoni and Nelson is that they contributed to a climate that made the game worth watching again.