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Entertainment: No LeBron, No Problem: NBA Finals Ratings Should Top Last Year's Despite Suns-Bucks Matchup

NBA fines Miami Heat president Pat Riley $25,000 for tampering after LeBron James 'key under mat' comments

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Every once in a while, we're treated to an out-of-nowhere, oddball title match-up. The 2021 NBA Finals, which pit the Phoenix Suns against the Milwaukee Bucks, is the one of the strangest and most unexpected in recent sports memory.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Chris Paul are posing for a picture © TheWrap

And despite the relatively smaller markets -- Milwaukee is the 37th ranked Nielsen designated market area, the smallest TV market to be in the NBA Finals since Oklahoma City in 2012, while Phoenix ranks as a more respectable 11th -- this year's NBA Finals should still be able to top last year's in viewership, no matter how far it goes.

Last year's NBA Finals shed half of its audience despite featuring LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. The six-game showdown against the Miami Heat drew 7.4 million viewers, and was the first time since 2016 the Finals were out-viewed by the World Series (which was still a record-low for Major League Baseball). There were numerous caveats to that number, of course, the biggest being that the NBA Finals took place in October in a fan-less bubble environment.

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Those caveats are why this year's matchup, which is still taking place a month later than normal, should provide a bounce back in viewership.


Gallery: Best of the NBA postseason: From play-in tournament to NBA Finals (USA TODAY)

a man standing in front of a crowd: East finals: The Milwaukee Bucks celebrate with the Eastern Conference championship trophy after defeating the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6.

Plus, there's something to be said about the weirdness of this year's competition. The Suns made the playoffs for the first time since 2010 and secured their first appearance in the Finals since Charles Barkley fell to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the early '90s. The Bucks, meanwhile, have been knocking on the door the past few years and finally broke through this year for that franchise's first Finals appearance since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was still known as Lew Alcindor.

The Suns have never won a title while the Bucks won their only championship in 1971.

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In terms of star power, the Suns have rising star Devin Booker as well as future Hall-of-Famer and State Farm commercials star Chris Paul, who is in his first Finals. The Bucks are led by two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, though his health for the series is a huge question mark.

The NBA has rebounded this postseason from last year's COVID-delayed bubble, which pushed the playoffs and Finals into the fall. ESPN/ABC's playoff coverage was up 34% with just a hair under 4 million viewers.

That comes despite a rash of injuries to top stars including (deep breath) LeBron James, Anthony Davis, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Jamal Murray, Kawhi Leonard, Trae Young and the aforementioned Antetokounmpo. Even the Suns' Paul missed the first two games of the Western Conference Finals due to COVID-19 protocols.

The 2021 NBA Finals begin Tuesday night at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT on ABC.

Tokyo Olympics Full TV & Streaming Schedule: How To Watch Everything, Including The Women’s Swimming & Woman’s Gymnastics Team Finals – Updated .
UPDATED with schedule changes: NBCUniversal is airing programming from the Tokyo Olympic Games across a wide swath of its broadcast, cable and digital properties, the programming schedules for which are constantly shifting this year. Deadline is updating this list daily from multiple official sources. See schedule below for full event listings. NBCU’s Peacock streaming service launched a Tokyo Olympics destination on July 15 that features extensive live coverage of some the Games’ biggest events including Gymnastics, Track and Field and the U.S.’s pursuit of its fourth straight gold medal in Men’s basketball.

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