A review of TNT’s NBA broadcast team of Kevin Harlan and Reggie Miller:
- The Lakers who clinched the number one seed in the West, rested LeBron James last Thursday against the Rockets who themselves were without superstar Russell Westbrook.
- The veteran duo of Kevin Harlan and Reggie Miller had the call on TNT. The two voices presided with a natural chemistry. When Harlan raised a topic or there was activity on the court that warranted it, Miller spoke up candidly. It was rare that Kevin raised specific questions with Reggie until very late when he asked the ex-Pacer about the Rockets’ prospects in the playoffs. Reggie said he can see the Rockets winning their first round series but then be outmatched by their potential second round opponent, the Clippers.
- Harlan is as smooth as silk and has a thunderous sound. He’s able to enthusiastically call big plays without a screeching element in his delivery. His sonorous voice never grates. When Jared Dudley set a hard screen on Daniel House, sending House to the floor late in the game, Harlan snapped, “That kid was knocked into next week.” Harlan’s calls flow naturally. He stays away from arcane terminology, allowing fans with a limited understanding of the game to feel comfortable.
- Miller and Harlan focused less on anecdotes and more on players’ skills, the teams’ strengths and weaknesses and strategical implementation.
- At the outset, Miller (left with Harlan) listed what he expected to see in the game. One was how Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel would deploy his lineup against the noted Rockets’ small-ball. Usually the Lakers play Anthony Davis at power forward and either JaVale McGee or Dwight Howard at center when Lebron is on the floor. But Miller was curious whether the Lakers would stick to their typical style or play small and move Davis to center. As the game progressed, Miller’s question was answered. Davis played mostly at center. He also thought that Davis should have a 20 point and 20 rebound performance because the Rockets didn’t have the personnel to keep him off the offensive glass. Early on, Davis was indeed dominant on the offensive glass, but he ended up shy of a 20/20 game. The former Pelican produced 17 points and 12 rebounds, largely because he missed much of the second half to avoid aggravating an already achy hip. While the attention on the Lakers generally focuses on James and Davis, Miller told the audience that Kyle Kuzma has to be consistently aggressive if they’re to win a championship.
- Miller doesn’t dig as deep into strategy as other analysts like Stan Van Gundy or Hubie Brown. Yet he’s excellent for the casual viewer. Remember too that while Reggie knows the game cold, he’s not an Xs and Os coach. Yet Reggie often responds emotionally, as an ex-player might which is something fans like. But for the avid basketball viewer, Miller’s commentary can fall short on instruction and elaboration. For instance, Miller called Harden a “scoring savant” but didn’t delve into why. He did say that The Beard loves the step back three and has incredible footwork but gave no other tactical examples of why he’s a “scoring savant.” The lofty Harden label is indeed correct but Reggie didn’t underscore the fact that the Rocket star is the best player in the league at splitting double teams and that he uses his nimble footwork to euro step, slide through the defense and get to the rim. It would have been nice if this could have been demonstrated with video support.
- Miller said that Houston opponents get into trouble because they believe that they should throw the ball into the post frequently because of their size advantage down low against the Rockets. But ‘today’s game’ is not as post oriented and teams do struggle getting the ball into the post. The Rockets indeed cause turnovers when opponents do throw the ball into the post regularly. Miller says that after all the opposing team’s misses and turnovers, they find themselves down because the Rockets are outstanding from three-point range. Against the Lakers, Houston was a plus 57 points from deep. In other words, teams will find themselves in the “Houston Trap.”
- Miller harped on the Lakers inept offense and asked, “When are we going to stop making excuses for them?” Like others, Miller believes the Lakers will face the Trailblazers in the first round. Harlan calls Portland a fourth seed when healthy. Reggie notes though that while the Lakers will be favored in that potential matchup, they should still be worried. He points out that the Lakers are the only team not averaging at least 100 points in the Orlando Bubble. (They ended up with 97 against Houston.) Reggie stresses that LA will have to be mentally ready against Portland.
- Miller and Harlan are no different from other broadcasters in one way. They’re adjusting to the Bubble where they’re situated upstairs, not on the floor. Harlan never gropes for the right word. Miller does a satisfactory job as a commentator but doesn’t dig under the hood as much as a Stan Van Gundy to please the viewer who’s a student of the game.
Together, Harlan and Miller earned at least an A- from viewers of all ilks and perhaps higher from the average fan.