TNT scores with NBA playoffs

ESPN, TNT both show post-season gains

The NBA continues to put up huge numbers for its cable partners, as Sunday night's Cavaliers-Magic throw down drew a record 8.97 million viewers to TNT.

Orlando center Dwight Howard scored 24 points and grabbed nine boards to lead the Magic to a 99-89 win over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, giving the Magic a 2-1 edge in the best-of-seven series. According to Nielsen ratings data, the playoff drew 4.99 million viewers 18-49 and 4.85 million adults 25-54.

James had 41 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in a losing effort. Game 3 marked the 24-year-old small forward's seventh 40-plus-point effort of his postseason career, which dates back to the 2005-06 campaign.

TNT averaged 3.32 million total viewers for the week ended May 24, a span that saw the Turner network secure four of the week's top 10 most-watched programs on ad-supported cable. Game 1 of the Cavs-Magic set averaged 7.32 million viewers Wednesday night, while the second meeting between the two clubs drew 6.91 million fans on Friday night.

In addition to its fourth delivery title, TNT once again swept the three major demos, averaging 1.75 million viewers 18-49, 1.72 million adults 25-54 and 891,000 viewers 18-34.

Since the playoffs began, TNT's NBA deliveries are up nearly 15% over last season. Perhaps no one is more pumped about fan interest than Turner ad sales chief David Levy, who in 2007 signed an eight-year extension of TNT's NBA rights contract. (TNT has carried NBA games since 1988.)

USA Network held onto second place with an average nightly delivery of 2.82 million viewers, thanks in large part to its WWE Raw showcase and repeats of NCIS. The Monday night wrestling block scared up 5.12 million viewers between 9 p.m. and 11:06 p.m., 2.45 million of whom were members of the 18-49 demo. Meanwhile, USA secured its biggest NCIS number on Saturday night, drawing 4.15 million total viewers in the 10 p.m. slot.

USA took second place among the 25-54 crowd, averaging 1.28 million viewers. ESPN squeezed past USA for the 18-49 silver by a margin of some 8,000 viewers, averaging 1.16 million members of the core demo.

The sports net claimed third place with an average delivery of 2.22 million viewers, thanks to its coverage of the NBA action on the opposite coast. The NBA Western Conference Finals tipped off Tuesday night (May 19) in Los Angeles in front of a national television audience of 8.09 million viewers, making it the most-watched basketball game (college or pro) in ESPN history.

Game 2 of the Lakers-Nuggets brawl also drew a crowd, averaging 7.89 million viewers Thursday night (8:56 p.m.-11:56 p.m.).

Along with the aforementioned 18-48 delivery, ESPN also grabbed second place among the younger crowd, drawing 654,000 viewers 18-34. The net finished third among adults 25-54 (1.1 million).

Like TNT, ESPN has enjoyed a strong NBA post-season, and is up 10% versus last year's playoff deliveries. (ESPN shares custody of its NBA playoffs slate with sibling net ABC. The broadcaster drew 8.7 million viewers Saturday night with its coverage of Game 3 of the Lakers-Nuggets series, making it the third most-watched NBA playoff game in ABC history.)

Fox News Channel held down the No. 4 spot with 1.89 million viewers, while TBS closed out the top five with an average delivery of 1.53 million.

Among all basic-cable nets, non-ad-supported Disney Channel closed out the week in fourth place, averaging 2.03 million primetime viewers.