At NBA playoffs time, everyone has an opinion

Here we have it, NBA playoff time and Charles Barkley has opinions. So many opinions.

For example, LeBron James is the best player in the world, Barkley says. And in the Western Conference, the Lakers are “clearly” the team to beat. “We’d all be shocked if the Lakers don’t get to the Finals,” Barkley said, speaking for his TNT broadcast mates. Well most of them anyway.

One of those mates, Kevin Harlan, said he would not be surprised if the Lakers aren’t in the West finals.

“I have some concerns with the Lakers,” said Harlan, who must be channeling a lot of nervous Lakers fans. “Dallas has played great after its trades. It could be a tough matchup [ Steve] Nash versus [ Derek] Fisher.”

One of the great things about the NBA playoffs is that the national announcers for TNT and ESPN are always chatty and always opinionated.

ESPN’s Jalen Rose said Oklahoma City’s Scott Brooks is the coach of the year and that Kevin Durant is a legitimate MVP candidate. He suggests that if Dallas is truly ready to beat the Lakers, " Caron Butler will have to contribute much-needed size, toughness and versatility.”

Rose handicaps the Western Conference in this order: Lakers, Dallas, Denver, San Antonio, Utah, Phoenix, Oklahoma City and Portland. He favors Cleveland over defending Eastern champion Orlando, trailed by Boston, Atlanta, Charlotte, Miami, Chicago and Milwaukee.

Barkley also said Cleveland had made a mistake in resting James so much at the end of the regular season. He said that when he was playing in Phoenix the Suns became “lackadaisical” near the end of the regular season while resting Kevin Johnson and Dan Majerle. “I’m surprised LeBron rested so much,” Barkley said.

On the other side, Barkley said Kobe Bryant needs a different kind of rest.

“You can’t waste all your energy scoring 25 or 30 points every night,” Barkley said. “It takes a toll on you. He’s using so much energy every night. As you get older, it just doesn’t work as well.”

Harlan said he was surprised that Bryant’s injured finger still looks bad.

“He came into the studio and that finger looks just as bad as it did at the All-Star game,” Harlan said. “That thing is looking really, really bad. Funky.”

Barkley had an opinion on that too. “It doesn’t hurt his FGAs,” Barkley said, referring to field-goal attempts. “He doesn’t stop shooting. If a finger is hurting maybe you should become more of a set-up man. Kobe could make a move, say ‘I’m going to get Fisher going, Lamar [Odom] going.’ ”

NFL draft, in prime time

The NFL draft begins Thursday. Just a warning to clear your schedule. There will be more April 23 and 24 too. ESPN and the NFL Network will have you covered.

“It’s a cool move for television,” ESPN senior coordinating producer Jay Rothman said. “In addition to the abundance of live shots we’ll have the ability to regroup, take a deep breath then do a better show Friday night with the second and third rounds, take a deep breath, plug them all together and do the same thing for Saturday, dive in deeper … sink our teeth in, dive into each team. I’m excited about that.”

But then you NFL fans probably don’t have to be told to take a deep breath. Or to get excited.

ESPN is touting the fact it will be in the homes of 25 potential draftees. The NFL Network promotes its access to the team “war rooms,” where the coaches and general managers plot their picks.

And why is the draft moving to a weeknight? Rothman tells us.

“Just on the ratings, it’s going to have a huge impact on Thursday night,” he said. “It’s a largely viewed night in prime time. “

New second job

Scott Niedermayer of the Anaheim Ducks began working as a guest commentator for ESPN’s “SportsCenter” on Thursday. He will do live segments during the first two rounds of the NHL playoffs. It’s the norm for athletes in other sports to jump on to television and especially ESPN, but there’s not been many notable hockey players to get the television opportunity.