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‘Inside the NBA’ entertains in many ways, some even involving basketball

Yanny or Laurel?

TNT’s “Inside the NBA” cast of Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith opened Wednesday night’s pregame show with the question of the day on social media.

They closed the postgame show by interviewing provocative Houston evangelist Joel Osteen.

In between, they discussed food, fashion and, yes, basketball.

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Barkley proclaimed after Golden State’s Game 1 blowout of Houston that the Warriors would sweep the best-of-seven series for the Western Conference championship.

“Anybody who thinks the Rockets are going to win a game or win this series is an idiot,” Barkley said. “This is over, Ernie.

“… I picked the Warriors in five. I’m taking the Warriors in three.”

Of course, the Rockets easily won Game 2 Wednesday night. When Barkley began to backtrack, one of the show’s producers cleverly responded by putting a viewer’s tweet on the screen that said, “Chas changing his tune about Houston faster than LeBron’s hairline receding.”

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For fans of “Inside the NBA,” it’s fortunate the Rockets won Game 2. The longer the Western Conference series goes, the longer you will be able to share in the fun with Ernie, the Chuckster, Shaq and Kenny the Jet on pregame, halftime and postgame shows on TNT.

When the Finals begin, ABC/ESPN will take over. “Inside the NBA” will be relegated to NBA TV.

ABC/ESPN, which is televising the Eastern Conference finals, is solid, professional, thorough, etc. The smartest thing that network does, though, is that it doesn’t try to imitate TNT.

Who could?

TNT has had some version of the show since 1989. Johnson was there in the beginning with different co-hosts. But it didn’t become must-see TV until Barkley came aboard in 2001, followed a short time later by Smith. Many critics viewed the addition of O’Neal in 2011 as a negative because of his mumbling.

Although still occasionally mumbling, “The Big Aristotle” proved them wrong by becoming Barkley’s sparring partner.

Most of the time, Johnson referees.

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But he wasn’t on the set the night of the most heated exchange between Barkley and O’Neal this month. After Toronto Raptors then-coach Dwayne Casey benched DeMar DeRozan, Barkley said it was up to Casey to repair the relationship. He didn’t finish the thought before O’Neal interrupted to disagree.

Here’s the transcript, edited for grammar and language:

O’Neal: “Me and Pat Riley never saw eye-to-eye, and what happened in Miami? I won. So it’s not true what you’re saying.”

Barkley: “That’s not true because Dwyane Wade was the man on that team, not you. Don’t even start it. Don’t even start it.”

O’Neal: “I was a role player. You’re right. But Pat and I, we didn’t get along. We didn’t get along. You don’t know what you’re talking about when it comes to a championship.”

Barkley: “I’m just saying … ”

O’Neal: “Stop babying these players.”

Barkley: “Just because you’re loud doesn’t make you right. You’re wrong in the situation. You can yell, yell, yell …”

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O’Neal: “And that’s why you didn’t win, because you’re a baby. Stop babying these players!”

Barkley: “I’m not babying these players.”

O’Neal: “[DeRozan] doesn’t play. He doesn’t play. Casey gotta sit his [butt] down.”

Smith: “He’s got to repair …”

O’Neal: “He ain’t got to repair nothing. He’s got to stop babying these players. You got babied and that’s why you didn’t win.”

Barkley: “I didn’t have Dwyane Wade or Kobe Bryant to carry me up and down the court.”

O’Neal: “I got three Finals MVPs, Chuck! Google me, Chuck! Google me! You see that? Google me!”

You could almost see Smith sweat, probably wondering if Johnson would miraculously appear on the set on a day off and rescue him.

Barkley and O’Neal have had several arguments through the years, including one in February during All-Star weekend at Staples Center. Barkley threatened to throw a chicken wing at O’Neal. However, the most recent one is the first time it seemed as it they might actually fight since the scuffle when they were playing against each — O’Neal with the Lakers, Barkley with the Rockets — in 1999.

The next time the foursome was together on the set after the argument about the Raptors, Johnson felt it necessary to bring up the incident to clear the air.

“I’m surprised at you, Ernie,” O’Neal said. “Chuck is the older brother. I’m the younger brother. We fight all the time, but we love [each other]. He says what he says. I say what I say and then we go back and eat Krispy Kreme.”

The only potential for argument Wednesday night came at the beginning, when the four were asked to react to an audio clip that went viral on social media earlier in the day asking listeners if they heard the names “Yanny” or “Laurel.”

O’Neal heard Yanny. Johnson and Smith heard Laurel. Barkley heard “doughnut,” a prankster producer having programmed that word for his headset.

Comedy tonight.

And just to clear the air, the answer here was Yanny.

sports@latimes.com


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