NEW YORK (AP) — With 2016 over and the NFL regular season as well, it's about time for the NBA to start showing up more often on more nights.
The new year will feature a new night of national TV games, one of the highlights of a busy January, when there are nearly half as many nationally televised games as in the previous two months combined.
TNT's new Monday night package debuts where last season ends, with the second NBA Finals rematch between Golden State and Cleveland on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The Jan. 16 doubleheader concludes with Oklahoma City at the Los Angeles Clippers.
The second season of ABC's Saturday night prime-time coverage then returns at the end of that week with San Antonio visiting Cleveland.
There are 49 nationally televised games in January, including 17 NBA TV telecasts. There were 104 such games through Dec. 31.
Steve Clifford painted a bleak picture for Eastern Conference teams late last season when it came to competing with the Cavaliers.
"If they play well, it'll be difficult for anybody in the East to beat them four times," the Charlotte coach said. "Somebody can beat them once or twice maybe, but not four times in my opinion."
He was right. Cleveland swept the first two rounds and then beat Toronto 4-2 in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Cavs enter the new year much sharper than they did in 2016, when they were sometimes wobbly under David Blatt and still hadn't figured out how to properly use Kevin Love. Now Love is thriving, averaging 22.2 points and nearly 11 rebounds, and the Cavs seems firmly in control of the conference.
But Clifford won't concede anything yet the way he seemed to do then, praising the Raptors as well — though Cleveland has handled them in all three meetings this season.
"Love is playing, I think, at a different level, more comfortable. They're going to him more, he's getting the ball in the post more, also," Clifford said. "But I mean, there's 50-something games to play, so health ... is always a big part of it. But I mean they're playing at a really high level."
THINGS TO WATCH THIS WEEK
MVP! MVP!: It's Russell Westbrook vs. James Harden on Thursday when Oklahoma City visits Houston. Winner pads what so far are the two leading MVP resumes.
BIG MAN BATTLE: Karl-Anthony Towns vs. Joel Embiid could be a big-man battle to watch for years, and Round 2 comes Tuesday in Philadelphia. Towns (25 points, 10 rebounds) and the Timberwolves rolled over Embiid (10 and 10) and the 76ers in November.
TERRIFIC THOMAS: Isaiah Thomas finished his dazzling December with a career-best, 52-point performance in a victory over Miami, and he opens January on Tuesday against the Utah Jazz, who went into the new year allowing a league-low 94.7 points per game.
END OF THE ROAD: Toronto wraps up a difficult six-game Western Conference trip on Tuesday at San Antonio. It's the third stop on the trip, joining Utah and Golden State, where the Raptors played a team that starts this week as a division leader.
HELP ON THE WAY?: Teams looking to fill roster spots have another option starting Thursday, when 10-day contracts can be signed.
STAT LINE OF THE WEEK: James Harden, Rockets: 53 points, 17 assists and 16 rebounds in a 129-122 victory over the New York Knicks on Saturday. In his second straight triple-double, Harden became the first player in NBA history to have at least 50 points, 15 assists and 15 rebounds in a single game, according to information provided by the Rockets from the Elias Sport Bureau.