Your NBA TV companion … aka, your new best friend

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Your faithful companion wouldn’t let you down. Nuture him. Feed him. Trust him.

Now let him help you help him.

To watch tonight’s Lakers-Celtics Game 3 on the ABC telecast (Channel 7, 6 p.m.) without the accompaniment of the NBA.com’s “TV Companion” (linked here at nba.com/tvcand also here, but go to this direct link when the game’s on tonight) would like flying a 747 without a control panel in front of you.

Actually, this has been out since the start of the season, but we’ve been wearing of all the bells and whistles actually locking out computer up, so we’ve avoided clicking onto the device (which isn’t all that easy to find on NBA.com) until we gave it a real test drive during Sunday’s Game 2.

It passed with flying purple, gold and green colors.

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Here’s the deal: When sportswriters go out to cover NBA games, they’re sitting next to a monitor that has updated, to-the-second stats. Every time there’s a foul, a rebound, a change of possession, the graphic is updated. It can be presented as a full-screen, side-by-side box score – not the easiest to read, but all the essential info’s there.

With NBA TV Companion, it’s there, and more, for the viewer not just at home with Wifi access, even in an arena, to check out and stay engaged with everything that’s going on.

Bryan Perez, the senior vice president of NBA Digital, explains the thinking behind it:

“Watching a game on TV is often like, ‘Sit back and let us do the driving,’ but these days, with so much information that never hits the screen and the viewer’s ability to multitask, they can say, ‘We want to drive ourselves. So we had to figure out how to marry it all.

“We don’t want people to have this intense flipping between webpages with small statistics. We wanted to distill it to the essence of what you’d want – who’s leading, who’s hot, where are the points coming from, play by play – even though you can still see all that. Here’s your companion.”

During the regular season, when you’d go to the Lakers’ website, this would be the actual home page – the NBA Companion and its statistical presentation. Same with the playoffs.

There are four basic presentations to decide on what to toggle back and forth on during a game:

1) Box score: The regular, full stat page, with players bold faced when they’re in the game. Not the easiest to read when focusing back and forth from computer screen to TV, but the most all-encompassing delivery.

2) Play by play: In larger typeface, 10 plays at a time, reflecting a turnover, missed shot, made shot, rebound, etc.

3) Stats: A mug of each player in the game, their number, their minutes played, points, rebounds, etc. You can also vary what stats you want to see of each person – in order of leading scorer, etc. Always the five on the floor, but with a link to who’s on the bench.

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4) Shot chart: Not just a blackboard with Xs and Os on who’s taking shots, but a 3D court graphic filtered by team, player or what kind of shot (layup, dunk jump shot, tip-in, alley oops, or everything).

There’s also the social media interaction – direct links to Twitter, Facebook and MySpace that allow people to talk to each other as they’re watching – a distracting thing for us, but something that again keeps the viewer engaged.

On top of this, Perez notes that the new iPad app has many of the same elements but is more interactive and probably easier to use because of its light weight and ability to do things quicker and with more finger pushing.

“We took the TV Companion and really beefed it up for iPad,” Perez said. “And then there are the mobile aps where you can still pull your gadget out of your pocket, turn on Gametime and listen to the radio broadcast, home or away.”

Enough to make your eyes gloss over, or widen with delight.

“The phrase we use is ‘go wherever the fan takes us,’” says Perez. “Instead of a wild-garden approach, it’s simpler: Take us to your kids’ soccer game, to the man cave, and we’ll have all the tools.

“What we’ve also discovered with this: It’s easier to raise your TV ratings by keeping the audience longer than by getting a larger audience. If a viewer watches another 20 or 30 minutes because he’s become fully engaged, that’s easier, and better, than trying to add viewers as the game goes along.”

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As for the feedback so far: “They love it,” says Perez. “We’ve seen photos posted on Flickr of someone holding their iPad next to the TV screen to show us how excited they are to use it. That’s fun for us, too.”

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