Turner's full-court press scores with NBA viewers


Here's all you need to know about the direction of the NBA vs. that of Major League Baseball: The opening games for all eight NBA playoff series are being telecast nationally. The opening games for all four major-league playoff series will be telecast regionally.

Yep, that's all you need to know. Thanks a lot. See you next week.

To continue for those still with us, Turner Broadcasting is carrying NBA playoff doubleheaders on TBS (starting at 7) and TNT (starting at 8) tonight -- the channels had four games last night, too.

The NBA and Turner say this could be a prelude to full playoff coverage next season. (Turner and NBC combine on coverage until NBC takes over exclusively during the conference finals.)

"We're kind of in an experimental mode," Kevin O'Malley, senior vice president of Turner Sports, said in a news conference this week. "This year represents a halfway measure."

That also goes for what the expanded coverage -- five more games overall -- is being called: "multiplexing." Now, don't forget, each day take your multiplex vitamin.

As is its custom, Turner will mix and match its announcing teams. That may be part of the reason that the play-by-play men seem so interchangeable. Bob Neal is Pete Van Wieren is Ron Thulin. Only Gary Bender, however, is Gary Bender. And for that we give thanks.

Additions to the play-by-play roster this year are Verne Lundquist, who has done everything at CBS except style Lesley Visser's hair, and Tim Brando, perhaps best known for escaping nerve deafness while working with Dick Vitale at ESPN.

Turner's analysts are the stars, none more so than Hubie Brown and Doug Collins. Here's some of what they had to say this week about the playoff matchups:

* Brown on the Knicks-Nets: "That's probably going to be the toughest series to referee, not just because of the physical play, but also because of the trash talking. . . . New York is not the same team they were a year ago. Derek Harper is not Doc Rivers."

* Collins on the Hawks: "They're going to have to play with poise and patience. . . . not try to live on the perimeter, which is their weakness."

* Brown, in the same vein, on the Hawks: "The way that [Stacey] Augmon, [Craig] Ehlo and Mookie Blaylock shoot from the outside will determine how they do in the playoffs."

* Collins on the overall parity of the playoffs: "There's not one playoff series that would be an upset."

The one consistent presence through the playoffs on Turner will be studio anchor Ernie Johnson, who, if he grew a pencil mustache, would look even more like Baltimore filmmaker John Waters. Tonight through the weekend, Johnson will be joined in the studio by retiring Pistons guard Isiah Thomas.

Late Night with Mel and John

Funny things happen to your head when you stay up late to watch an Orioles game. Take Wednesday's telecast from Anaheim, for instance. The Orioles-Angels game ended at about 1:55 a.m. I think it finished on a goal that broke up a scoreless tie in the fourth overtime. And didn't Andy vanHellemond have trouble with the strike zone?

Anyway, in case you missed the original shot of Chris Hoiles' being conked on the head by a fastball from the Angels' Scott Lewis, it was replayed and replayed on the Home Team Sports coverage. I could have done without hearing the sickening sound of ball hitting helmet a couple more times.

And maybe it was the late hours, but the graphics on Orioles telecasts this year seem a little smaller and harder to read.

One more thing: Does the Psychic Network carry sports? If so, does Dionne Warwick read the scores of tomorrow night's games?

Stop the world and Mel with you

Other than a new barber, Bill Tobin may be the best thing that's happened to ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. in recent years. Tobin, Colts director of football operations, blasted Kiper for the latter's criticism of Indianapolis' draft moves on Sunday.

Obviously unimpressed that Kiper is ESPN's certified Draft Expert, Tobin said, among other things, that Kiper "never put on a jockstrap." Kiper responded, through USA Today -- cheaper than a long-distance call to Indiana -- that "I challenge Tobin to a one-on-one in football, baseball, basketball -- whatever he wants."

Undergarments optional.

Short-changed on Shore

Some Eastern Shore Orioles fans are seeing less of their favorite team on television this season. In recent years, games on local TV -- Channel 2 and HTS -- were available on many Shore cable systems. But this year's switch to channels 13 and 54 along with HTS has reduced game telecasts on systems that don't carry Channel 54 (or its Washington equivalent, Channel 50). Shore viewers who can't see WNUV are getting about 25 fewer games this season. . . . WITH (1230 AM) will carry the Capitals' Stanley Cup playoff series with the Rangers. . . .

On Stan "The Fan" Charles' WCBM talk show Wednesday night, Eddie Epstein, baseball statistics expert and former Orioles employee, presented stats to indicate that the Orioles' acquisition of Chris Sabo won't significantly improve their production at third base.

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