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Despite Early Tip-Off, Networks Bullish on NBA Season

ESPN AND TNT will tip off their respective National Basketball Association regular-season coverage expecting to build on their ratings performances from last year, despite an earlier tip-off to the campaign.

The season kicks off Oct. 17 — two weeks earlier than usual — in an effort to better schedule games to limit player fatigue and injuries during the season. TNT will offer an opening night doubleheader showcasing the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Boston Celtics along with the Houston Rockets battling last year’s champion, the Golden State Warriors.

The games are part of TNT’s 67-game regular-season NBA schedule, which also features a Christmas Night telecast, its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day tripleheader and its 20-game Tuesday night “Players Only” lineup of games featuring former basketball players in all broadcast roles, according to network officials.

ESPN will begin its 87-game NBA coverage Oct. 18 with a Philadelphia 76ers-Washington Wizards/Minnesota Timberwolves-San Antonio Spurs doubleheader. Combined with sister network ABC’s broadcast schedule, the two Disney-owned networks will offer a company record 104 NBA regular season games.

ESPN executive VP of programming and scheduling Burke Magnus said the network is bullish on the upcoming season, given the number of off-season moves by top teams and players as well as the emergence of a strong crop of rookies.

He also expects that ESPN will surpass the 1.6 million viewers it generated last season despite the early start.

“We’ve been pushing for our efforts around the NBA to be year-round, and with our coverage of the past off-season the league had, in terms of free agent movements, a draft class that hasn’t been seen in many years, the season starting now seems about right to me,” he said.