The two teams I've picked to reach the Western Conference finals are meeting up Wednesday night. It's Sacramento at San Antonio on NBA TV, and it's possibly one of the last times I'll be able to whine about that channel.
Although you have to question whether April Fool's Day was the best launch date, given how much this issue has rankled fans across the country, NBA TV returns to the Comcast digital cable lineup -- in CERTAIN markets, we stress -- on Thursday. It's too late for Kings-Spurs, obviously, but it'll be back in time for the playoffs when NBA TV will again be the exclusive carrier for up to eight first-round games.
Starting on April Fool's, Comcast subscribers in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Seattle will have access to NBA TV and the four games a week it now airs. Very important, though: It will not be a standard digital channel like before. You'll have to pay a few bucks extra for the channel if you're not already a subscriber to the Digital Extra tier. Call your local Comcast operators to be sure you get that right, but at least you can be sure it's back on the system.
As for Comcast subscribers who don't live in those markets, like me, you have to check with your local Comcast office to find out precisely at what point NBA TV will be made available this year. Then you have to find out specifically which tier you have to pay for to make sure you get it.
In Dallas, for example, NBA TV is scheduled to arrive April 20, according to a cable-box message to subscribers. Comcast president Steve Burke, meanwhile, said on a recent conference call that Philadelphia subscribers will likely have to wait until June or July before seeing NBA TV on their system.
If you're a Comcast subscriber wondering about your town, I wish I had more details. Attempts to get that information were thwarted because the information isn't available yet. With logistics being sorted out on a market-to-market basis, the timetable is different everywhere beyond the nine markets whose service starts Thursday.
That's the latest. I'll keep providing updates as I get them.
In case you need a little history here ...
Comcast digital subscribers have been waiting for their NBA TV for more than a year. Digital cable subscribers with all companies were treated to a despicable surprise on New Year's Day 2003 when, without warning, NBA TV was deleted from the channel menu and replaced by a worthless NBA Preview Channel. I made my (and my readers') displeasure known on my next visit to Commissioner David Stern's office, where Le Commish informed me that the channel was pulled because of a new rate card attached to NBA TV when four games started coming off the League Pass schedule every week to appear only on NBA TV.
Until then, NBA TV was available to all in the digital cable world as a delicious year-round hoops treat. What made the disappearance such an outrage is that even full League Pass subscribers were helpless against the channel's disappearance. Despite paying nearly $200 in the fall, with the promise that you would have access to every game in the league that isn't televised on ESPN, ABC or TNT, the rules were changed halfway through the game.
NBA diehards in a Comcast neighborhood were thus forced to either pay to switch to dish/satellite services or wait all this time for the channel's return. It sounds easy, unless, say, you live in an apartment where you're not allowed to throw a dish up.
Us? Let's just say that, after spending a few days with some family last week that had a different digital cable provider offering up NBA TV with no fuss, April 20 can't get here soon enough.
When the Sixers win by 24 points on the night that it's announced Allen Iverson is gone for the season -- when the Sixers are still mathematically alive for a playoff berth -- that strikes us as a virtual celebration by the players who just found out they were going to be playing the season's final eight games without him.
Iverson, as a result, will have played only 48 games this season. That's the same number he played in the lockout season of 1999, with the 34 games he will have missed by season's end representing a new career high by far.
Those are facts that figure to make Iverson tougher to trade than we've been saying, even if the Sixers do decide it's time to move him out and start over. AI turns 29 in June and is just getting into an expensive contract extension, at a time when his durability has never been more in question.
Yet the feeling here remains that the Sixers are going to explore their trade options strongly, in spite of the challenges, because they're not going to be able to bank on AI's box-office power forever. I can't imagine that Iverson will be able to draw crowds in Philly in perpetuity just because he's The Answer. The Sixers will have to start winning again to keep the people coming, at NBA prices, and that's Ed Snider's dilemma: Is it easier to start building a winning team by exiling AI, or by taking one more stab at building around him?
It's pretty safe now, if you wish, to start calling him J-Thrill again. The big story in Memphis last season had Hubie Brown bridging several generations to get Jason Williams to play more efficiently than ever. Now J-Thrill is spicing up the efficiency with his inimitable flair. Williams ranks third in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio at 3.61 ... and seems to be throwing an amazing no-look/wraparound/bounce/lob pass every time I switch to the Grizz channel.
The credit in Miami is deservedly going to Stan Van Gundy, Dwyane Wade and Lamar Odom. Eddie Jones and Rafer Alston should be getting more credit, but people are starting to take notice of what they're doing, too.
Now it's Pat Riley's turn.
It'd be a farce to suggest that this was the plan all along: Miami making a total turnaround after Riles' shock resignation just before the season and the Heat's subsequent 0-7 start.
Riley, though, is the guy who drafted Wade and who pushed for outlay of more than $60 million to Odom, when lots of folks warned him not to. One season in, those moves look like a couple of home runs for a long-overdue Winner Within.
As long as we're still whining ...
With all the college throwbacks out now -- love that Duquesne/Norm Nixon jersey -- would it kill one of those retro companies to bust out a Leon Wood No. 20 from 1982-83? All that Fullerton team did was upset unbeaten and top-ranked UNLV, and all Leon did a year later was beat out John Stockton to make the Olympic team and start alongside Michael Jordan in Bobby Knight's backcourt.