They may be getting praise elsewhere, but I found the frequent disagreements between NBC analysts Steve Jones and Bill Walton during the Houston-San Antonio series more tiresome than another Dennis Rodman interview.

Walton, the Bob Trumpy of basketball analysis, topped himself Thursday night during Houston's 100-95 series clincher. Before halftime in a tie game, he suggested that the Spurs run out the clock rather than attempt to score so they wouldn't have the psychological disadvantage of being ahead at halftime. Huh?

Jones and play-by-play man Greg Gumbel ridiculed the suggestion, with Gumbel telling Walton: "You are a weird duck."

In the fourth quarter, with Spurs star David Robinson benched with five fouls, Walton said: "This is where Rodman has to take over the game."

Jones surely was speaking for the audience when he immediately asked: "How?

At one point Tuesday, after another foolish Walton statement, Jones asked: "Are we watching the same game?"

When Walton said Rocket reserve Charles Jones was having a great game on a relative basis, Jones asked Walton to explain. The apparent explanation: Jones was playing well for a guy who can't do much.

I admired Walton's candor when he worked college basketball for CBS. He certainly sees things differently. But over a six-game series, Walton makes so many BIG pronouncements that he becomes an annoying know-it-all.

Jones acts like the voice of reason to counter Walton's act. At one point Tuesday, Jones felt Walton's suggestion that Rodman re-enter the San Antonio lineup was inappropriate because the Spurs needed more offense.

Rodman came in and scored a highlight film layup, prompting Walton to exclaim: "There's your offense."

Good line. But Jones was right. That was Rodman's only basket and the Spurs needed more offense in a 111-90 loss.

As the Spurs' neared elimination Thursday, Jones also correctly noted that Robinson "let his team down" and "has some growing to do."

There was no arguing with that.

NBC's Marv Albert deserves credit for instantly calling Indiana's 94-93 victory over Orlando "a classic" after four big shots were made in the final 13 seconds. But how did he and Matt Guokas ignore the possibility that it may have taken more than 1.3 seconds for Indiana's Rik Smits to catch an inbounds pass, make a fake and then shoot the game-winner?

Admittedly, NBC was in a hurry to sign off. But it should have taken the time to focus on what was certain to be the issue in press accounts the next day.

With New Jersey, Philadelphia, Detroit and Chicago left in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the National Hockey League couldn't have asked for better semifinal matchups as far as TV markets are concerned. However, ratings are off about 10 percent on ESPN.

Channel 7 weekend anchor Bob McKeown showed his sports naivete after Charles Barkley of the Phoenix Suns announced his latest "retirement." Channel 7 promoted the announcement big time before its sportscast and McKeown didn't seem to realize that Barkley "retired" after the Suns' 1994 playoff loss. Channel 2's Mike DeGeorge and Channel 4's Chuck Howard put the "retirement" speech in perspective, noting we'd have to see if this was another false alarm.

Doug Collins, who is leaving TNT to coach the Detroit Pistons, said more interesting things in one quarter than Guokas says in a series. Collins' most telling remark during the playoffs was in an NBC interview on draft lottery day. He made it clear that he had to talk with the New Jersey Nets' Derrick Coleman to see if he would be interested in trading for the talented but troubled Detroit native. You got a sense that Collins is a believer in the Buffalo Bills' philosophy of acquiring good citizens who can also play.

Let's give TNT's coverage of the NBA credit where it is due. It took the O.J. Simpson trial out of first place in cable ratings. The NBA on TNT dominated the Top 15 cable program list, which had been dominated by the Simpson trial. TNT finished the playoffs up 33 percent from last year.

Fox will be carrying an hour-long, year-round Sunday night sports show on its cable network, fX, starting this fall. The plan is to focus on the NFL this fall. It's a great idea for fX but I'm not sure ESPN or TNT will be happy about sharing NFL highlights on Sunday.

Word around town is that John Gurtler may pitch for the play-by-play job in Denver, where the Nordiques are moving. Gurtler is from the Denver area.

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