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LEE ENHANCES NBA PLAYOFF RATINGS

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Random thoughts while wondering if Spike Lee will Do The Right Thing and keep the NBA Finals in the spotlight:

Lee hasn't sat still since he boosted interest in the playoffs by demonstrably jawing with Indiana's Reggie Miller in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals. With increased viewership for the next two games, NBC moved to within 1.0 percent of last year's record-setting playoff rating of 8.0.NBC says an NBA Finals series between New York and Houston that lasts at least six games could give the network one of the five best Championship Series ratings ever. What the network doesn't say is whether it might whisper in Lee's ear for extra animation if the series hits a lull.

In the week when CBS was trumpeting the return of the sweet science to its airwaves, the Journal of the American Medical Association called boxing "medically and morally wrong." And here we thought CBS had concluded its run as a punching bag.

It's unlikely that the veteran announcing team of Tim Ryan and Gil Clancy will even touch on the editorial during Sunday's 11 a.m. showing of a bantamweight bout between Junior Jones and Orlando Fernandez from Atlantic City.

The real truth is that CBS is turning to boxing - which it recently considered unworthy of competitive ratings - because it has to fill its sport-poor "Eye On Sports" anthology show.

With Greg Gumbel departing for NBC after tomorrow's CBS/KSL coverage of the College World Series title game, Jim Nantz becomes firmly entrenched as the beleaguered network's crown jewel.

We shouldn't look for any changes in Nantz, who has climbed from his anchor perch at KSL to the top spot in New York with an admirable work ethic. That work ethic was exhibited when Nantz played a round of golf with Fred Couples to gain insight on the pro's comeback.

"I expect Fred to come back on the Tour and play as if he hasn't skipped a beat," Nantz says. "He showed no signs of pain or hesitation in his game, nor did he favor the injury."

The Clippers are said to be interested in Matt Guokas as their next coach/scapegoat. The timing would be just right for Guokas, a nice man who is overmatched as lead analyst for NBC's coverage of the NBA Finals. Rumors persist that Charles Barkley will fill the role next season if His Baldness chooses to retire as a player.

Isn't it quite amusing that TCI Is still playing those TNT playoff ads asking viewers if they know what time it is? The spot says the playoffs begin on TNT on April 28. Hey, TCI, it's June 10.