As we dig into the particulars of the 2013-14 NBA schedule which was released on Tuesday, the amount of nationally televised games awarded to teams is an interesting indicator of perceived interest or predicted success.
But as we’re learning more and more, it’s mostly an indication of market size.
The Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks lead the league in nationally televised appearances with 33 apiece, and the Lakers are fourth on that list with 29 behind the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 30.
By comparison, the two-time defending champion Miami Heat are slated to have just 27 of their games seen by a national audience.
The reasons behind these numbers are somewhat obvious. The Lakers may not be favored to finish the season in contention for a title, but they’re still a team with plenty of star power in Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Steve Nash, and they have one of the largest fan bases in the league, while playing in the second-largest market in the country.
That translates into interest on a national level, and that’s why you’ll see the Lakers playing in plenty of nationally televised games.
Another thing to keep in mind here is that NBA TV games are included when counting up the national TV schedule — which means these numbers will change before the season is through.
NBA TV has fans vote on which game it will televise on Tuesday nights throughout the season. So, if the Heat (or even the Lakers) are one of the options, you can expect them to get the nod more often than not — again, due to the level of star power and market size much more than simply because of either team’s projected level of success.
It’s actually hilarious how the public perception of the Lakers changes from year to year. A season ago, they were expected to be right there competing for a championship, but due to an insane amount of injuries that prevented the team from ever gaining a level of comfort or cohesiveness, things were derailed essentially from the very start. Yet, the Lakers remained one of the most intriguing teams in the league to watch, if only for the train wreck factor more than anything else.
This year, the Lakers will likely be a little bit better than expected. No one knows when Kobe Bryant will return from his Achilles injury, of course, and no one knows how close he’ll be to his previous level of performance. But if he comes back relatively early and can play at close to what we’ve become accustomed to seeing, L.A. will win plenty, and should be firmly in the mix for a spot in the postseason.
The Lakers won’t be as good as they’ve been in previous seasons, and they won’t be in the championship conversation for the first time in several years. But given all of the dynamics in play, they may be even more interesting to watch — which makes their semi-excessive number of nationally televised games a bit more easy to understand.