THE BAY AREA basketball and hockey seasons are over. The NFL draft and Kentucky Derby are history. And there'll be plenty of opportunities to watch the Giants and A's this summer.

It's time to dial in the NBA playoffs, sports fans, and enjoy.

Few things figure to be as compelling this sports year as the ongoing NBA conference semifinals. If you're waiting for the Finals to tune in, you're making a big mistake.

Check out the matchups:

Jazz-Lakers. Jerry Sloan remains haunted by visions of Michael Jordan torching his club with a championship within reach. If he's ever going to get revenge before retiring, here's his shot to shackle the sport's next-best thing, Kobe Bryant.

Spurs-Hornets. Chris Paul and the boys are this year's Warriors. They're far too quick and athletic for the Spurs, who in turn are far too wily and experienced for the Hornets. Something will have to give.

Cavaliers-Celtics. Talk about marquee value: LeBron James vs. Boston's Big Three. America is rooting for the Celtics, if for no other reason than another Cavaliers trip to the Finals would be a serious case of been-there, done-that.

Magic-Pistons. Introducing, Dwight Howard. He's the guy who hurt his thumb and turned Game 1 into an unwatchable blowout. If that happens again ... well, at least there are three outstanding alternatives.

ABC has picked its favorites: Boston-Cleveland Game 3 on Saturday and Los Angeles-Utah Game 4 on Sunday.

Between now and the weekend, we'll get: Cleveland-Boston Game 1 (tonight, TNT), Detroit-Orlando Game 3 (Wednesday, TNT), Utah-LA Game 2 (Wednesday, TNT), Cleveland-Boston Game 2 (Thursday, ESPN), New Orleans-San Antonio Game 3 (Thursday, ESPN) and LA-Utah Game 3 (Friday, ESPN).

It should be fun.

A message from above

On the same day CBS aired "The Best Shot in Golf," a tribute to the role of the blimp in the sport's television coverage, it was fitting the MetLife blimp brilliantly captured Big Brown's fascinating run from the parking lot (the No. 20 post position) to the winners' circle in the Kentucky Derby.

The next time someone downplays the role of the jockey in horse racing, simply queue up the blimp's coverage of Kent Desormeaux's road to victory Saturday and put the blowhard in his/her place.

A first-rate effort all the way around.

Best thing I heard all week

Explaining why NBC didn't air its most gruesome footage of Eight Belles' fateful fall following the Kentucky Derby, producer Sam Flood said: "I elected not to go with it for the simple reason it's not something I'd like my wife and children at home to see." I applaud the decision.

Three you gotta see

-Players Championship, 17th hole live (Thursday, 6 a.m., pgatour.com): See every entrant hit the most exciting shot in golf, then dream of someday doing it yourself.

-Diamondbacks vs. Cubs (Friday, 11:10 a.m., WGN): It's never too early to say: Playoff preview.

-Indianapolis 500 pole day (Saturday, noon, Channel 7): Be honest: At this point, you're either rooting for or against Danica Patrick. Aren't you?

Scanning the airwaves

It's unanimous: The Bay Area loves overtime hockey. Sunday's four-OT thriller got a 5.9 rating, the highest in Sharks history on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. The previous record had been a 5.7 in the second round against the Avalanche in 2002. Sunday's viewership also was the highest of any game on the network this year.

Following up on a suggestion made by Greg Papa in this very space last week, the NFL already is looking into moving its draft out of New York City. Los Angeles, of all places, is being considered as the 2009 host. ... Also in the works: An NFL awards show that will air in primetime on the Friday before the Super Bowl. NBC is in negotiations to produce February's inaugural effort.

E-mail media-related questions and

comments to Dave Del Grande at

dave@bayareanewsgroup.com.