Last night was a glorious night in professional sports. Football fans tuned in for the always incredibly competitive and extremely well-played Thursday Night Football, featuring the Jacksonville Jaguars taking on the Houston Texans. For those that don't like oblong ball, there were some great match-ups on the roundball court as well, as TNT's first game of the night was an epic battle between the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets, with the night cap being a Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat face-off.
If you've been living under a rock, not a word of that lede was written with a straight face. Those were awful match-ups. I saw more competitive and competent play during the scrimmage at my eighth grade team's practice last night. There have been some truly awful games on national TV this year, and taking a look at the schedule, it doesn't look like it will get all that much better.
Look at the Christmas Day games. Chicago at Brooklyn? Oklahoma City at New York? Miami at the Lakers? Blech. The last two games (Houston at San Antonio, Clippers at Golden State) should be decent at least but the first three games are like three giant lumps of coal in all of our stockings.
The New York Knicks have 25 games left on national TV between the ESPN and Turner families of networks. The Brooklyn Nets have 20. The Los Angeles Lakers have 25. And even Chicago has 27. That doesn't even count the possible NBA TV Fan Night games on Tuesdays, which are usually dominated by teams like these because voters are dumb. Meanwhile, the young, fast and exciting Phoenix Suns have three games that can be seen by the masses.
The problem is that the TV schedule is set when the schedules are made: long before we actually learn who the good or at least entertaining teams are. Last year's success, expectations, the season's story lines and, most importantly (and unfortunately), market size are the determining factors for who gets to be seen on TV.
Judging by those factors, it makes sense why those four teams got as many TV games as they did. The Knicks were one of the top teams in the East last season, they feature a marquee player in Carmelo Anthony and they're in New York. The Nets were a playoff team last year and pulled off the biggest blockbuster trade of the summer, and they're in New York. The Bulls made the playoffs last year, without Derrick Rose, an this was supposed to be Rose's comeback tour. Finally, the Lakers are the stupid Lakers and are going to be put on TV no matter what.
However, here we are, more than a month into the season, and the four teams I mentioned above are a combined 26-45. Tyson Chandler has been hurt for the Knicks and the rest of the supporting cast around Anthony has sucked out loud. The Nets have been a complete disaster. Deron Williams has been hurt, Kevin Garnett appears to be done and Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson aren't too far behind him, and there is also the coaching dysfunction (great work Jason Kidd). The Lakers have been better than some expected and haven't been awful to watch, yet they're still only .500. For Chicago, Rose's return has been cut short and his season is over already, and the Bulls are one of the worst offensive teams in the league.
None of these teams are what we expected. Now, we're stuck watching them.
The NFL uses flex scheduling in the second half of their season. NBC can choose to flex out games in order to get a better match-up on their channel if one presents itself. That is how it should be in the NBA. I'm not even asking for very much more balance in terms of who makes the cut. There are plenty of bad teams that nobody wants to see. But the TV games should be awarded based on merit; not name. Schedules should be more flexible, with TV games being determined during the season.
The Suns were - rightfully - on the list of teams with minimal appearances. They were projected to be one of the worst teams in the league, and the initial roster looked to be a mess. But things have changed since then and the Suns are now plenty of fun to watch, scoring the most transition points in the league and featuring two dynamic point guards.
If the NBA wants to continue growing in popularity, it should put the best product forward for fans to enjoy. That means the best and most fun teams - not the biggest names - should be the ones on TV. Find the best match-ups and put them in prime time after we have a better feel for what those match-ups will be.
I'm choosing to ignore the logistics that go into scheduling TV games right now because, darn it, I'm a fan and I want good basketball. However, I doubt the only way to do things is to lock games in months ahead of when they will be played. There has to be a feasible way to include more flexibility in scheduling. I know a lot of these teams are chosen because of their name and market size, but frankly, I don't care. I'd rather not watch a mediocre Lakers or awful Knicks team 40 times this season just because they are in big cities. Let's go for quality over quantity here.
Give us the Thunder, the Warriors, the Clippers, the Heat and the Pacers. Give middle-of-the-pack-yet-young-and-entertaining squads like the Suns and a few others more of a chance to put on a show.
C'mon NBA. Give us good basketball.