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Delay game is a heavy weight

You may have heard of the Indiana Pacers. They're the team that mercifully and efficiently broomed the Celtics out of the playoffs eight days ago. They not only haven't played since, they don't know whom they're going to play next.

Just what Rick Carlisle wanted for his motoring assemblage -- 10 days off. But it's no one's fault. Well, sort of. The Pacers aren't the culprits. They took care of business in the shortest amount of time with, seemingly, the sparest amount of energy. They await the winner of the Miami-New Orleans series, which, I believe, will end sometime in this millennium. That series, the only first-rounder to go more than five games, will finally end tomorrow night, some 17 days after it started.

And that is someone's fault.

There is no reason Carlisle's Pacers should have to wait this long because there's no reason the Miami-New Orleans series had to last 2 1/2 weeks. Yet, for reasons known only to the supposed smarties in television, the NBA and its TV confederates are sapping the life out of the postseason before it even has gotten started. It'd be one thing if the league's transparent kowtowing to television resulted in boffo ratings and must-see TV. But it's the other way around; last year's NBA Finals was the lowest rated since the dawning of the era of color television.

Silly me. I always thought the idea in a playoff series was to keep the momentum, drama, and interest going. You play a game. You have an offday to discuss, adjust, inflame, whatever. Then you play the next day or, at worst, two days later.

But that line of thinking does not apply to the people who made the decisions that formulated this year's playoff schedule, the most ludicrous one I've seen in two decades of covering the NBA. We noted yesterday how ridiculous it was for the Spurs and Lakers to be on a Sunday-Wednesday-Sunday format for the first three games of their series -- and then to have three days between Games 6 and 7 should the series go to the max.

Well, look at the Nets-Pistons series -- it's the same thing. New Jersey will not have played since April 25 when it opens its best-of-seven affair with Detroit tonight. The Pistons have been off since Thursday. OK, fine. Everyone will have had plenty of time to rest and prepare for what could be a decent series. You know when Game 2 is? Friday.

And, needless to say, if the Pistons and Nets are deadlocked after six games, there is a three-day wait -- again -- before Game 7. A three-day wait between a Game 6 and a Game 7 has happened once in the last quarter-century -- in 1979 in the Western Conference Finals. Now it could be happening twice in the same week.

Why not just go to an NFL format and play once a week?

There was a time when relative sanity prevailed in the postseason. Once upon a time, and not that very long ago, the regular season ended on a Sunday and the first round, a best-of-five affair, began the following Thursday or Friday. Each round was essentially given a two-week block and then there were the Finals, which are cut in stone from a scheduling standpoint with one exception -- the starting date.

Now we're going to hear that this new, stretched-to-the-max format is actually better for the players because it eliminates back-to-back games, which were rare anyway, and that, well, how many series actually go the distance? In truth, most series don't go seven games. But my guess is if you asked the players, they'd rather play every other day, or even back-to-back, than have to wait three days between games in the same city.

Minnesota is just getting over its first-round series -- a five-game affair that took 13 days to complete. The Kings needed only 12 days to oust the Mavericks in five. Sacramento and the Timberwolves now meet with Game 1 tomorrow night in Minnesota. Game 2 is Saturday. The Kings might as well go back to Sacramento between games.

Typically at this time of year, the players and coaches shrug and note that they are powerless to do anything about the schedules and so they simply go forward. The NBA clearly doesn't care, either. The television people don't care, never have cared, and never will care. They'd stage the Finals between acts in "American Idol" if they thought it'd be more profitable.

But that's the irony of it all. TV pays the freight, gets to call the shots, yet when the ratings come in, all the evidence is that fewer people are watching. Maybe it's the product -- that's a topic for another day. But maybe it's also because the casual fan who may get pulled in at this time of year doesn't have the time or patience to stick with it.

I don't blame that fan. It's hard enough for those of us who have to stick with it to stick with it. Given an option, is it any wonder viewers are going elsewhere?

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