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Clippers step further into the national TV spotlight

October 31, 2006|Larry Stewart | Times Staff Writer

The Lakers open their season tonight against the Phoenix Suns at Staples Center in a game that will be nationally televised exclusively by TNT.

The Clippers open Wednesday night at Phoenix, and that will be televised locally by FSN Prime Ticket but also nationally by ESPN.

Being on national television is nothing unusual for the Lakers.

It is for the Clippers.

The Lakers once again are scheduled for the maximum number of national telecasts this season -- 24. That breaks down to 10 on ESPN, nine on TNT and five on ABC. The Lakers also will be on NBA TV a maximum nine times.

At the start of last season, the Clippers were scheduled for only one national television appearance. And that was a home game against the Lakers on Feb. 24 on ESPN.

Because of their success, the Clippers ended up making five other appearances on ESPN, but none on ABC, none on TNT and only four on NBA TV.

This season, the Clippers are scheduled to make 12 national appearances -- six on ESPN, five on TNT and one on ABC. They're also scheduled to appear on NBA TV eight times.

"Growing up here in Los Angeles, I thought I would never say this, but it is slowly becoming a Clipper town," TNT analyst Reggie Miller said. "You really have to give credit to Donald Sterling, Elgin Baylor and Mike Dunleavy.

"My biggest question is, will they be content? Will complacency seep in?

"They were a feel-good story last year. ... Now when they go on the road, the Clippers are starting to sell out. It's not the Clippers of old that were pushovers."

The Clippers' newfound TV stature isn't the only difference. Another is a new NBA announcer lineup on ABC and ESPN for game and studio telecasts.

ESPN, which now controls ABC Sports, has decided to make Mark Jackson an ABC star.

He'll be paired with play-by-play announcer Mike Breen on ABC's No. 1 announcing team and also work as a studio analyst on ABC telecasts, which will be on-site. The No. 2 team will be Mike Tirico and Hubie Brown.

ABC's first NBA telecast will be Christmas Day, when the Lakers visit the Miami Heat. Breen and Jackson will work that game, and possibly a third announcer -- a fired coach maybe, or a big-name player who might become available.

ABC begins regular Sunday telecasts on Jan. 28, and those telecasts will have a set start time of 12:30 p.m., following a 30-minute pregame show that will be anchored by Dan Patrick, with Jackson and Michael Wilbon serving as analysts.

ABC started last season with a studio lineup of host John Saunders and analysts Greg Anthony, Tim Legler and Stephen A. Smith.

Saunders this season will instead do some play-by-play and also some hosting duties on ESPN2's whip-around NBA coverage. Anthony and Legler will work as commentators with Saunders when he works play-by-play on ESPN. Anthony and Legler will also serve as studio analysts for ESPN.

Not returning to ESPN are studio analysts Scottie Pippen, Paul Silas and B.J. Armstrong, and game analyst Steve "Snapper" Jones.

The No. 1 ESPN game announcing team will be Breen and Brown. The No. 2 team will be Tirico and Bill Walton. Mark Jones and Tom Tolbert will also call a few of ESPN's 71 telecasts.

Although there is some network crossover with Breen, Tirico and Brown, each announcing team is slightly different. The idea is to make the ABC telecasts distinctive from ESPN's.

The NBA studio shows on ESPN generally will air on Wednesday and Friday nights with new host Fred Hickman, joined by Anthony, Legler and Smith. Newcomers Allan Houston, Kiki Vandeweghe, Jon Barry and Jamal Mashburn will be used in various capacities. Dee Brown returns as a studio analyst. Reporters include Ric Bucher, Chris Broussard and Marc Stein. Jackie MacMullan of the Boston Globe will be another contributor.

ESPN appears to be confronting its competitor, TNT, with a large army. TNT will televise 52 regular-season games, with 44 being part of the network's Thursday night doubleheaders.

During the 2005-06 regular season, TNT averaged a 1.1 rating. ESPN averaged a 0.9.

TNT, to no one's surprise, is standing pat with its game announcers and its highly acclaimed studio lineup of Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Magic Johnson.

Asked if TNT's success was a factor in the overhaul at ESPN-ABC, Norby Williamson, executive vice president in charge of production, said, "You evaluate yourself as time goes, continually tweaking and pushing forward. We want to present the most comprehensive coverage of the NBA and I think we do that ... We're constantly looking at the competition."

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