It’s a sign of respect. And it shows popularity. But ultimately, it shows the ability to draw ratings.
One of the key questions when a new NBA schedule comes out is “how many times is a team on national television? And I’m not talking NBA TV picking up the local broadcast, I mean on one of the key national partners of the league — TNT, ESPN or ABC. A team can be on up to 25 times a season.
The Heat, Thunder and Knicks are the three teams that reach that 25 limit. It makes a lot of sense in the case of the Heat and Thunder, who met in the finals and have two of the biggest stars in the game in LeBron James and Kevin Durant. People tune in to watch them play.
The Knicks? They reach the max in part because New York is a huge market and draw, and part because their combination of star players is potentially combustible. They will be a good team and likely one with drama around it. And drama sells.
The Lakers will have 24 nationally televised games, which is not a surprise. After that your next two teams you expect to see on the list because they are good and have big followings: The Boston Celtics (19) and the Chicago Bulls (19). After that it slips down to teams like the Spurs (16) and the Clippers (13).
Among the evolution is seeing the Suns drop off the map without Steve Nash while the Pacers, after their strong playoff showings, are up to 7 nationally televised games.