The NBA, in the midst of a labor stoppage, has released its 2011-12 national TV schedule, and not surprisingly carriers ESPN, ABC and TNT have put a number of clubs into heavy rotation.
The league's perennial powers the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles and defending champion Dallas Mavericks will all appear 10 times on both ESPN and TNT, the most permitted by the league.
For its part, ESPN, which has 75 games in all, will also put the team most fans love to hate, the runner-up Miami Heat, the resurgent New York Knicks and San Antonio Spurs on 10 times apiece. The worldwide leader has nine telecasts scheduled involving the Chicago Bulls, Denver Nuggets and Oklahoma City Thunder.
TNT, which again will air 52 contests, the vast majority via exclusive Thursday night doubleheaders, has the Bulls and Heat on tap for nine games, plus Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire's Knicks, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook's Thunder, and Dwight Howard's Orlando Magic for eight games each.
The cable networks' schedule differentiate the most where the Spurs and Magic are concerned. Whereas San Antonio gains maximum exposure on ESPN, TNT will only present Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli & Co. four times. Conversely, the Magic are scheduled to only air on ESPN five times, three fewer than on TNT.
The "drama network" begins its regular season coverage Tuesday, Nov. 1, with a special half-hour preview show, TNT NBA Tip-Off '11 presented by AutoTrader.com at 7 p.m. (ET), followed at 8 p.m. with an exclusive opening night doubleheader. The first features Dallas, which will receive its championship rings, hosting the Chicago, while the nightcap pits the Thunder against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers at 10: 30 p.m. Opening week continues on TNT on Thursday, Nov. 3, with Orlando traveling south to Miami at 8 p.m., trailed by Portland hosting Denver.
With a flexible schedule that allows it to select the best, if not exclusive, matchups, ESPN has 31 doubleheaders on tap. The network tips off its regular-season Wednesday, Nov. 2, with the Heat and their Big 3 of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh visiting the Knicks in Madison Square Garden 8 p.m.,followed by the Golden State Warriors, led by new head coach Mark Jackson, hosting the Lakers at 10:30 p.m. ESPN Deportes will also televise the Nov. 2 doubleheader.
Opening week action will continue with a doubleheader Friday, Nov. 4 -- the Celtics and All-Stars Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo visiting the Atlanta Hawks and All-Stars Al Horford and Joe Johnson at 8 p.m., and the L.A. Clippers and 2011 rookie of the year Blake Griffin matching up with the Trail Blazers and Brandon Roy.
ABC will air 15 exclusive telecasts, starting with a Finals rematch between the Heat and Dallas on Christmas at 2:30 p.m. and Lakers-Bulls at 5 p.m. The broadcaster also has five other Sunday doubleheaders in store on Feb. 19, March 4, April 1, 8 and 15.
Key contests include Eastern Conference finals rematch between the Bulls and Heat on Jan. 29; the Lakers hosting the Heat on March 4; and the sport's top rivalry, Lakers-Celtics playing out on March 11.
All told, ABC will present six Heat games; five by the Lakers and Bulls; four by the Celtics and Knicks; and three from the Mavericks.
Of course, unless the league and players association, which have not spoken formally since their contract expired on June 30, can bridge their differences, the season and TV schedules could look vastly different.
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