FOR ALL OF those myopic local fans who consistently e-mail me claiming that the National Hockey League generates more interest than the National Basketball Association, I offer you the overnight TV ratings.

On Sunday, the Flyers and Chicago Blackhawks played a critical Game 5 of an even Stanley Cup finals series on NBC.

At exactly the same time, the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers played Game 2 of the NBA Finals over on ABC.

That's two championship-round games aired on broadcast television during the same time slot.

I think it's safe to say that a swing-game of a series deadlocked at two generally would be considered more important than the second overall game of a series.

Yet when it came to a head-to-head faceoff in front of a national television audience, the NBA drained a three-pointer while the NHL got sent to the penalty box.

The NBA's Game 2 scored a 10.9 overnight rating.

The NHL's Game 5 got a 4.0.

That is bordering on a 3-to-1 advantage.

So, if you want to tell me that the Flyers have a more dedicated and loyal fan base than the Sixers, I won't argue. I think just about everyone acknowledges that. But to extrapolate this Philadelphia perspective as representative of a national view just doesn't hold weight.

Because of the markets involved, both championship series are experiencing some of their best ratings in years.

Still, it is relative.

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup, which was also broadcast on NBC, had a 2.8 overnight national rating. That was a 12 percent increase over Game 1 of last year's Cup finals between the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins and was the highest rated Game 1 since 1999.

However, Game 6 of the NBA's Western Conference Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns still outdid the Stanley Cup by drawing a 5.8 on TNT.

For all of those complaints about NBA players being thugs and poor role models and about the quality of play in the NBA having drastically declined, sports fans in the United States, as a whole, still prefer the NBA over the NHL.

With this being the first Stanley Cup finals I've attended, I will in no way belittle the excitement of being in the Wachovia Center.

Watching Games 1, 2 and 5 on television, I can say I don't believe hockey translates to television as well as other sports, but it still has been a heck of a lot of fun to watch. Still, with the Lakers/Celtics game tipping off about a half-hour earlier than the Flyers/Blackhawks started and with the Orange and Black falling into a big early deficit, I ended up watching a good amount of the NBA Finals.

This has the makings of a classic Finals. All nonsensical thoughts about the Lakers rolling to a consecutive title after winning Game 1, 102-89, were dismissed with the Celtics' 103-94 victory Sunday night in Los Angeles.

Boston point guard Rajon Rondo showed how much of a difference-maker he can be by recording a triple-double with 19 points, 10 assists and 12 rebounds.

On a team with three potential Hall of Fame players - Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen - Rondo has emerged as the key player for the Celtics throughout these playoffs.

LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers had no answer for Rondo in the second round of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

He was the guy the Orlando Magic couldn't contain in the Eastern Conference Finals.

And Rondo is the player Los Angeles had better figure out how to contain starting tonight in Game 3 unless the Lakers want to lose in the Finals once again to their nemesis from the East Coast.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson might be the one strolling to the Hall of Fame, but it was Celtics coach Doc Rivers who made the vital adjustments from Games 1 to 2. With the Lakers' ball-hawk defender Ron Artest guarding Paul Pierce, the Celtics ran the offense to set up sweet-shooting Ray Allen, who had 32 points and set an NBA Finals record by making eight three-pointers.

Now snagging a victory at the Staples Center, the Celtics have an opportunity to win the NBA title without having to return to Los Angeles.

I personally hate the NBA's 2-3-2 playoff format for the Finals. In an even matchup, the home-and-home swing of Game 5 and Game 6 can be the most dramatic moments of a playoff.

The Flyers went into Chicago on Sunday knowing that they could seize control of the Cup finals by winning in Chicago and creating a chance to clinch at the Wachovia Center in Game 6.

Conversely, the Blackhawks knew how critical it was for them not to fall into that situation.

Tomorrow night in South Philadelphia will be electric as the Flyers look to stave off elimination in front of their home crowd and move this series back to Chicago for a deciding Game 7.

The NBA format eliminates that drama.

For all of the hard work the Celtics put in to steal home-court advantage, the Lakers only have to win once in Boston to ensure that the Finals will be decided in Los Angeles in either Game 6 or 7.

Unless you believe the Celtics can beat the Lakers four straight times, both of these teams are flying back to the West Coast.

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