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Jones: Weekend begins best time of year for sports TV viewers

A comfortable recliner. A cold drink. A bag of chips. And a remote with fresh batteries.

What else do you need this time of year?

Right now gets my vote for the best time to be a sports viewer.

Baseball is up and away, and you know, though they are up and down, the Rays have been entertaining to watch.

The NBA playoffs, when no player is resting, started this weekend, and already there is intrigue, with questions about the Cavs, a buzzer-beater and a chance to see players we don't get to see enough, such as Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo, Portland's Damian Lillard and Memphis' Marc Gasol.

You also have NASCAR, English Premier League soccer and golf, where the men and women have had interesting majors so far.

And you have the absolute best postseason in sports: the Stanley Cup playoffs. Even if you don't have a runner in the race, you can't help but be pulled in by the drama and electricity that the Stanley Cup playoffs provide.

This weekend was the start of it all. Already I might need new batteries.

Best announcers

The NBA has by far the best announcers. Whether it's studio-show hosts, studio-show analysts, play-by-play announcers or game analysts, it's hard, if not impossible, to find anyone who doesn't do the job well. Heck, even the sideline reporters — who can be pretty mediocre in sports such as football — are superb in the NBA.

Whether it's ESPN/ABC or TNT, you're not going to find a bad set of broadcasters. That's how deep the networks' benches are. Some don't like Charles Barkley in TNT's studio, but no other broadcaster combines Sir Charles' insight, humor and brutal honesty. There's no aspect of analysis that Barkley (above) can't do.

This weekend, three components stood out. One was ESPN's studio show with Michelle Beadle, Jalen Rose and Chauncey Billups. What a relaxed, smart show, and credit goes to all three. A special nod to Beadle, who makes viewers feel like they are eavesdropping on a dinner-table conversation of people who really know what they're talking about.

The second thing that stood out was the work of play-by-play announcer Mike Breen, who was spectacular calling Sunday's Game 1 of the Golden State-Portland series. Usually — and as it should be — Breen (above middle) just calls the game and gets out of the way of the NBA's best game analysis team, Jeff Van Gundy (above right) and Mark Jackson (above left). But Sunday, Breen's perfect blend of getting excited and reining himself back in to let the viewers catch a breath made for a sensational call.

Finally — and the finest of all — TNT's studio crew did a marvelous, respectful job discussing the death of Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas' sister in a car accident Saturday, the eve of Boston's series against Chicago. A crew often known for outrageous, zany, controversial behavior did its profession proud with its measured tone.

Best criticism

Great stuff from NBCSN studio hockey analyst Mike Milbury (left), talking about a dumb roughing penalty taken by Montreal's Steve Ott in Game 2 of that series against the Rangers.

"Ott can't control himself,'' Milbury said. "He's a bum when it comes to this stuff. … Make a pass, score a goal. Stop being a jerk all the time!''

How can you not love that?

Favorite line

Another great thing about watching the NBA on TV: Doris Burke (right) of ESPN. Tremendous analyst. And she even has some bite to her commentary. When Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo was called for a phantom foul on a block attempt against Toronto on Saturday, an incredulous Burke said, "Are you kidding me? … I don't understand that.''

That's what viewers want, and you have to think that's what the NBA doesn't want. Good for her. And us.

Biggest baby

Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett, who might be the first pick in next week's NFL draft, refused to appear in studio as a guest on ESPN's Mike & Mike show last week because former Bucs defensive lineman Booger McFarland was filling in as guest host. In the past, McFarland has questioned Garrett's toughness. Though McFarland was rough on Garrett, he didn't take any cheap shots. He didn't talk about Garrett's personal life. He based his opinion on watching film. That's fair game, isn't it?

Ultimately, if Garrett doesn't want to talk to a particular broadcaster, that's his right. But if he can't take criticism from one analyst, you have to wonder if he has what it takes to make it in the NFL. Even McFarland wondered that in an interview with a Baton Rouge, La., radio station.

"I'm just a country boy from Louisiana who's talking sports on a radio show,'' McFarland said. "I'm not the person that's going to cover your team. I'm not doing this every day and you can't talk to me? … At some point these young guys need to get out of their feelings and stop being so sensitive. You're going to get criticized. The most popular people in the world get criticized all the time."

McFarland's right. Garrett is being a baby. Oh, by the way, whenever McFarland talks, I listen. I don't always agree with him, but he's very good at what he does.

Media tidbits

Excellent piece coming Tuesday at 10 p.m. on HBO's Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel. Correspondent Jon Frankel reports from the Dominican Republic, where 15 major-league players and prospects have died in traffic accidents in recent years, including Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura in January. Real Sports airs reruns throughout the month if you miss Tuesday night's debut.

The NHL on NBC and NBCSN saw a major dip in viewership this season, Sports Business Daily reported. NBC averaged 1.23 million viewers for 15 games, a 20 percent drop from last season. NBCSN averaged 336,000 viewers for 91 games, an 11 percent drop. On a positive note, NBC had its best NHL season in terms of live streaming.

For as dramatic as Sergio Garcia's victory in the Masters might have been, it didn't get a ton of viewers by Masters standards. CBS drew an 11.05 rating for the final round, meaning about 11 percent of U.S. homes with TVs were watching, the lowest for a Masters final round in three years. Part of the blame is attributed to gorgeous weather across the country that day. Seriously.

Three things that popped into my head

1 What's wrong with Rays slugger Evan Longoria? He's on pace for nearly 250 strikeouts. Might be time to shave that beard, just to switch it up.

2 How cool was it to see former Lightning center Brian Boyle set up Toronto's overtime goal against the Caps in Game 2 of that series Saturday with a beautiful behind-the-back pass? Sportswriters aren't supposed to root, but I can say that Boyle ranks very high on my list of all-time favorite athletes I've covered. He's smart, thoughtful and cooperative, win or lose.

3 Best "hmm'' column of the week: New York Post baseball columnist Joel Sherman, after the Mets and Marlins blew through their pitchers in a 16-inning game last week, wrote that baseball should consider ending games in a tie if the score is tied after 12 innings. Makes you go "hmm,'' doesn't it?

Jones: Weekend begins best time of year for sports TV viewers 04/16/17 [Last modified: Monday, April 17, 2017 10:12am]
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