by Ryne Nelson

Baseball is slumping. Hockey doesn’t stand a chance. College and pro football are out of season. Spelling bees, um… yeah.

Not only has bball drawn strong audiences in the Conference Finals, it’s setting all-time viewer records. To give some perspective, Game 4s of the Lakers/Nuggets and Cavs/Magic series out-performed the five network stations in similar time slots. Monday’s Lakers/Nuggets matchup drew 9.88 million viewers and a 6.9 national rating among adults 18-49, annihilating ABC’s The Bachelorette and NBC’s Dateline. Game 4 was easily ESPN’s most-viewed basketball game ever as well as the most viewed game on cable in history.

But the record was short-lived as TNT’s telecast the following night of the Magic’s OT Game 4 win averaged 10.1 million watchers and a 6.3 national rating in the key demos. Chaps, Game 4 was the most-watched show on cable this year! Although reeling from the summer transition, this Game 4′s audience closely rivaled CBS’ encore combination of bona fide hits NCIS and The Mentalist. Not bad at all. Via MultiChannel:

NBA fans may or may not get to see Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers meet LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in The Finals, but viewers are certainly tuning in to the conference finals.

After ESPN set a record for most-viewed NBA playoff game in cable history Monday night, TNT donned the crowd Tuesday with its coverage of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals.

For the Playoffs, ESPN is up 16 percent in viewers compared to last season, and TNT is up 20 percent. ESPN’s ratings are up 10 percent, and TNT’s ratings are up 12 percent nationally. The two networks are up in every other key demo imaginable.

As the economy twists itself back in the right direction, people are finding time for escapism — returning to old comforts. Needless to say, when old basketball fans turn on hoops this year, they like what they see. We may not be in the Golden Age anymore, but the NBA certainly has climbed out of its mid-decade Dark Age.