NBA Finals have a familiar feel

LeBron - ESPN
LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are ready to once again take on the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, starting Thursday night on ABC. (ESPN photo)

The NBA Finals finally start Thursday night on ABC with the Golden State Warriors hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s the third straight season the two teams have met for the championship, the first time in league history that’s happened.

LeBron James and the Cavaliers are the defending champs, but it was the Warriors made the most notable change from last season, adding Kevin Durant, previously with the Oklahoma City Thunder. As is often the case, a good deal of the talk at the start of the season was wondering how well Durant would fit in with his new teammates, especially Stephen Curry.

ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy said we shouldn’t have expected any problems.

“I expected it to go well for them,” Van Gundy said in a conference call with reporters. “I didn’t understand the handwringing in the preseason about how they were going to fit together. I thought the harder adjustment was going to be for like Klay Thompson because he’s going from being the guy with the ball in his hands, second or third most, depending on how you view it with Draymond Green, to being, at times, an afterthought in their offense. I thought that was the hard one.”

Mark Jackson, who works alongside Van Gundy, said Curry and Durant have been exceptionally professional.

“I think we expected because of their body of work as individuals, two class, quality guys, as good a duo of guys as we have in this league,” Jackson said. “The way they’ve conducted themselves from Day 1 until now has been inspiring and something that can be modeled through youth basketball and fans of the game.

“I think they’re unselfish superstars. They’re well-accomplished. Both guys will be in the Hall of Fame and will go down amongst the names of the greats that have played this game. And I think it only gets better as we’ve seen the season progress, their play, their timing, their trusting one another. It’s been a beautiful thing to watch.”

SALUTING THE RINGMASTER

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Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Breen, left to right, will call the NBA Finals on ABC. (ESPN photo)

Van Gundy and Jackson have a great on-air chemistry. This will be the 11th Finals for Van Gundy and the ninth for Jackson. Holding the reins on their act is play-by-play man Mike Breen.

“What Mike does, he makes look easy, but it’s very, very difficult,” Van Gundy said. “He, I think, has unbelievable NBA knowledge. He’s a student of the game. He understands the history. He knows how to make a big call and he also encourages us to say what we think, within limits.

“… Mike is like the point guard of the game. The way he allows us to be ourselves and not go overboard is a really special trait. That’s why he’s going to go in the Hall of Fame. … I thought Mike was already in. I can’t believe he’s not in. I know he will be soon because he deserves it. He is the voice of the NBA.”

NEW KINGS VOICE

The Los Angeles Kings have named Alex Faust to be their new TV announcer, replacing Bob Miller, who retired last season after 44 years with the team.

Alex Faust
Alex Faust will be the Kings’ new TV announcer, replacing the retired Bob Miller. (Los Angeles Kings photo)

Faust, who signed a multiyear contract with the Kings, will be joined by longtime TV analyst Jim Fox. Nick Nickson and Daryl Evans will continue to broadcast Kings games on radio.

A Brooklyn, N.Y., native, Faust, 28, has called hockey games on NBCSN, NESN and Westwood One Radio. From 2013 to 2015, he was a radio broadcaster for the American Hockey League’s Utica Comets.

“It is an incredible honor to join the L.A. Kings as their next play-by-play broadcaster,” Faust said in a statement. “The Kings have set a standard for excellence on and off the ice and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to serve fans in this role.”

HALF-COURT SHOT

ABC and the NBA are hoping the Finals will bring a boost to its sagging playoff TV ratings. SportsBusiness Daily reports the playoffs are averaging 3.95 million viewers per game, the worst heading into the Finals in at least 10 years.

It’s a puzzling number for the NBA since the first round produced the league’s best ratings since 2014.

TIRICO ON THURSDAY

Although it hasn’t been formally announced, NBC will have Mike Tirico do play-by-play on its Thursday Night Football  games next season instead of Al Michaels.

It was a move NBC was have said to have wanted to make last season when it originally signed to take on half of the league’s Thursday games, but the NFL said its deals with NBC and CBS specified the networks’ top announcing teams had to do the Thursday games. That meant Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, who do Sunday Night Football, for NBC.

The league now apparently is fine with Tirico and Collinsworth. CBS has changed its top announcing team with Jim Nantz now partnering with Tony Romo instead of Phil Simms.

ENOUGH ALREADY

We’ve heard enough about the alleged on-again, off-again feud between ESPN Radio hosts Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic to last a lifetime, and hopefully this will be the last word on it. Not that we’re really expecting that, but we can hope.

Golic this week refuted the notion by those working on the show of tension between the two in the South Bend Tribune.

“Greeny and I have talked. Greeny and I are fine,” Golic said. “In all honesty, I had more of a problem and was a little disappointed that people that work on my show would anonymously throw stuff out there. I’m not a big fan of the anonymous thing.”

Greenberg starts a morning ESPN show in January. Mike & Mike is slated to continue until December.

UP & DOWN THE DIAL

Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final earned a 2.46 rating for NBCSN on Wednesday night, up 30% from last year’s Penguins-Sharks matchup. Game 1 produced a 2.85 rating for NBC. Game 3 is at 5 p.m. Saturday, again on NBCSN. … The Indianapolis 500 was seen by 5.3 million viewers Sunday on ABC, the least viewed on record for the race and down 12.3% from last year’s 6 million. … Lee Corso and Desmond Howard have both signed multiyear contracts with ESPN to remain appearing on College GameDay.

Joe Davis will miss weekend games with the Dodgers in Milwaukee to announce the Pirates-Mets game for Fox with A.J. Pierzynski. That game, seen in 26% of the nation, will not be shown in the Los Angeles market. Here, we’ll see the Astros and Rangers (Justin Kutcher, C.J. Nitkowski, which 24% of the nation will get. The primary game, with Matt Vasgersian and John Smoltz, will be Red Sox-Orioles (49%). … The NCAA college baseball tournament and the NCAA Women’s College World Series both start Thursday on the various ESPN networks. …

On the 30th anniversary of the last time the Lakers met the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals, ESPN’s 30 for 30 series will have a two-night documentary miniseries about the rivalry called Celtics/Lakers: Best of Enemies. Parts 1 and 2 will air at 5 p.m. June 13 and Part 3 will air at 5 p.m. June 14. … The Memorial Tournament from Dublin, Ohio, will air Thursday and Friday on Golf Channel and Saturday and Sunday on CBS. NBC has signed a long-term contract with USA Swimming through 2024. …

Ken “Hawk” Harrelson announced Wednesday he will retire as a Chicago White Sox announcer after the end of the 2018 season. Harrelson, 75, will work primarily Sunday home games next season. Harrelson, an unabashed, unashamed “homer” for the White Sox is in his 33rd season with the team. Jason Bendetti has signed a new contract with the team to expand his role as the primary play-by-play announcer.

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