Buzz Bolsters NBA Playoffs

Audie Cornish talks to ESPN commentator Kevin Blackistone about the NBA playoffs.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The NBA playoffs are underway and, unless you are a Los Angeles Clippers fan, an insomniac or both, you probably missed this last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF NBA GAME)

DICK STOCKTON: Here is Rudy Gay - fires it up. (Unintelligible) and the Clippers have won it. One of the more remarkable comebacks in playoff history, the LA Clippers, down by as many as 27, stage an incredible fourth quarter rally and the Memphis fans shocked.

CORNISH: That was Dick Stockton of TNT calling the Clippers' stunning game one comeback over the Memphis Grizzlies. Turns out, this is just one of many stories to come out of a marathon weekend of first round playoff games, this despite a condensed season brought on by last year's walkout that had players exhausted and analysts predicting poor attendance and low TV ratings.

Joining me to talk about the state of play is Kevin Blackistone. He's a regular commentator on ESPN's "Around the Horn." Hey there, Kevin.

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: How you doing, Audie?

CORNISH: All right. So before we get to any of those rainy day predictions for the week, what happened in this game with the Clippers and the Memphis Grizzlies? As big a deal as we just heard in the tape?

BLACKISTONE: Oh, it was a big deal. I mean, the Memphis Grizzlies were up by 27 points. Television sets were being turned off around the country and, slowly but surely, somehow, some way, the LA Clippers, one of the most moribund franchises in the history of the NBA, chipped their way back into this game and the next thing you know, it's a six point game, it's a three point game and they grab the lead and won it.

CORNISH: So give us a preview about the playoff season. And let's talk about the West, to start. I mean, you mentioned the Clippers, but the best team with the best record is actually the San Antonio Spurs which, to me, is remarkable because it seems like their players are a little on the older side.

BLACKISTONE: Exactly.

CORNISH: And with the shortened season, everyone said the young guys would have the edge.

BLACKISTONE: Right. They tied Chicago for the best record in the league in these - 66 game schedule. You know, they're thirtysomethings and Tim Duncan and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. No one expected them to come out in a season like this where some coaches, including their own, are resting players who are of age just so they can get through the season. And yet they pull out a 50-win season out of the 66 short games in 123 days. It's absolutely amazing. So it's going to be interesting to see if they can actually keep up the momentum in the playoffs and not wind up getting gassed.

CORNISH: So now let's talk about the East: one of the contenders for the title, of course, the Chicago Bulls.

BLACKISTONE: Right.

CORNISH: Of course, until the MVP Derrick Rose blew out his knee on Saturday.

BLACKISTONE: Yeah. Very sad.

CORNISH: Who does that leave in Eastern Conference?

BLACKISTONE: Well, you know, this was always, once again, the Miami Heat's season to run away with the championship, just like last year after the triumvirate got together there of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.

So now, the pressure, I think, is even more on them because now there's absolutely no roadblock in their way whatsoever to get back to the finals, which is where they should be getting back to, anyway.

CORNISH: Now, Kevin, I mean, it's crazy, but it seems like there is excitement about the NBA and this is after...

BLACKISTONE: Oh.

CORNISH: ...people sort of were very doomsday about what the shortened...

BLACKISTONE: Absolutely.

CORNISH: ...season would do. Talk to me about - what are the ratings right now?

BLACKISTONE: Well, the ratings are record ratings right now, particularly on NBA TV, which I think the ratings are up like 33 percent. All the other partners, their ratings are up. Everyone is always kind of picking at the NBA for some reason, you know, like they say that the league has an image problem. It has a competition problem. It's had a rogue referee who tried to fix games in the past, but yet...

CORNISH: Those are big problems, Kevin.

BLACKISTONE: Yeah. Those are huge problems, but fans of basketball continue to overlook them and flock to the game in record television numbers. And I think part of it is the brilliance of David Stern, who orchestrated this 66-game schedule that he jammed down the players' unions throats. And, as a result, you get games night after night after night after night, also kicking off the season this year with five games on Christmas Day and nobody could turn away from those games.

CORNISH: Any chance they might want to do a shortened season from now on?

BLACKISTONE: You know what? A lot of us have been clamoring for that for years, but I don't think that owners are going to want to put up with missing another - what - 16 games that they can get some ticket revenue from.

CORNISH: Kevin Blackistone. He is a sportswriter and regular commentator on ESPN's "Around the Horn." Kevin, thanks so much for getting us up to date.

BLACKISTONE: Thank you for the invite.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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