Who's craving a rematch of the 2012 Finals?
The NBA playoffs focus all the eyes watching the action onto just a handful of games. A fan who has been singularly focused on his or her team is going to tune in to the rest of the league's action now; some are going to be following basketball for the first time all season.
At the same time, the most dedicated NBA fans aren't going anywhere; are their views going to sync with their less intense counterparts?
From the casual to the hardcore to everyone in between, every NBA fan will have their own agenda for the playoffs. No matter how great the product on the court is, not everyone is going to be perfectly satisfied.
If you're only peripherally interested in the NBA, you're going to want a Finals matchup featuring the guys you know best.
That means star power, and lots of it.
LeBron James is unquestionably the biggest name in the league right now, and Kevin Durant is still likely second in the minds of casual fans. Surround those guys with Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and you have an exciting blend of known talents to watch.
To top it all off, the drama of a Finals rematch between the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder is the perfect type of prepackaged storyline. You don't have to be a religious NBA follower to understand the ramifications of that matchup; the stakes are set for you.
Homers have a tricky time when it comes to rooting for a specific Finals; how do you choose a second team to root for when there's only one you care about?
Let's think about the most passionate fanbases in the league. Let's think about two teams who are as loathed as any in sports, and who detest each other more than anyone else. Let's think about the fans who are most willing to bunker down with their teams to overcome adversity-filled seasons.
These are bitter rivals filled with beleaguered vets hungry for success after their grueling and difficult schedules. After respectively watching Rajon Rondo and Kobe Bryant go down with season-ending injuries, Boston and LA fans are going to want their teams to make Finals runs more than anyone.
Such runs might be unlikely, but don't you dare try to tell them that.
It's easy to pick a Western Conference bandwagon team. In the East, not quite so.
The Denver Nuggets have always been an incredibly likable team.
George Karl's frenetic pace and the Nuggets' egalitarian approach to the game create an attractive on-court product out of selflessness and athleticism. Couple their preexisting underdog card with the loss of Danilo Gallinari and injuries to Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried, and their bandwagon only picks up steam.
The only true bandwagon in the Eastern Conference is the anti-Heat movement. After blowing out Miami twice earlier in the year and finishing as the runner-up in the standings, the New York Knicks are the default option to capture those fans.
The Miami Heat are so much of a superteam that they transcend media markets.
New York may have the biggest local fanbase, but LeBron James is the biggest draw in the NBA. If he's back in the Finals after winning his fourth MVP in five years, no one who even remotely likes basketball will be able to turn away.
So if the casual fans are going to be attracted to the Thunder, why would rating execs prefer the Los Angeles Clippers?
Here's where market sizes apply. Per Nielsen, LA is the second-largest TV market in the nation; Oklahoma City is 41st. And though Durant and Westbrook are compelling players, Lob City can counter with the Chris Paul-Blake Griffin combo to win over potential viewers.
As much as the casual fan gravitates towards star power, the hater is repulsed by that supposed draw.
Prone to denounce any flashiness or force of personality, the Indiana Pacers are sure to attract fans fed up with LeBron's Heat and Carmelo Anthony's Knicks. They sport a hard-nosed defensive mentality and Roy Hibbert, with his hulking frame and blue-collar game, is the closest thing they have to a star.
Though the Nuggets could be the Western option, they could be hated if you're not into a coaching ideologue like Karl—particularly in terms of his aversion to defense.
As an alternative, there's the Memphis Grizzlies. Led by the relatively unheralded Marc Gasol, they win through a physically imposing style and a relentlessness on both ends. Memphis will hound opponents on defense, and it will pound the ball inside on offense—no exceptions.
That sort of unpretentious approach can appeal to haters, even if the matchup might not produce aesthetically pleasing games.
Believe it or not, it's the stat geeks whose allegiances line up with the casual fans'.
It's no surprise that a team led by Durant—he of the 50-40-90 stat line—also leads the league in offensive efficiency. Yet Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka have improved on the defensive end as well; the Thunder's new focus on team defense has vaulted them to fourth in the league in that regard.
Meanwhile, the Heat are dedicated to spacing the floor and have greatly improved their perimeter defense since struggling earlier in the season. After ranking in the middle of the pack for much of the year, Miami's epic winning streak brought them all the way up to sixth in defensive efficiency.
Star power or no, these are the two most efficient teams in the league. Watching them try to exploit one another's weaknesses has got to be a geek's dream.
For NBA addicts, a Finals featuring the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs provides two things: A chance to relish LeBron's prime and to watch Gregg Popovich's dominance improbably continue.
The LeBron James hate rapidly dissipated since his blistering run through the 2012 postseason, if only because it's virtually impossible to hate the player and love the game he plays so well. He's one of the greatest players of all time and he's at the height of his powers; hardcore fans have to respect that.
They also have to love the Spurs' juggernaut still chugging along.
Tony Parker had a career year, Tim Duncan is playing like a man years younger and Kawhi Leonard is on his way to being an All-Star forward.
As they have been for well over a decade, the Spurs keep turning role players into well more than the sum of their parts; putting that system up against the brilliant Heat would be incredible for a basketball junkie.