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Must-see TV!! Nets-Lakers audience tops cable, adding to Brooklyn’s national luster

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Brooklyn Nets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

Thursday’s match-up with the Los Angeles Lakers on TNT wasn’t just big in terms of the Nets or even the NBA. It was big in terms of cable television, as Brian Lewis tweeted Friday night...

To be clear, the Brooklyn Nets helped TNT win Thursday night on cable TV! Programmers know the Nets can deliver on national TV. Based on their ratings this year, they must be considered one of the league’s most popular teams ... nationally. Will this give the Nets a national —and international— fan base? It’s a start.

The big audience Thursday is nothing new. The Nets, with their “Big Three” —whether one, two or three of them are playing, have been drawing big TV audiences since Opening Night, no matter the opponent. Nets-Warriors on Opening Night delivered 2.7 million viewers to TNT; Nets-Celtics on Christmas Day delivered 4.3 million to ABC.

There have been other big nights as well, the 1.6 million for the Nets-Clippers game February 2 was a boffo night for TNT. That audience represented a 32 percent increase in viewership on TNT over last year’s corresponding game. In New York, that game averaged 196,000 total viewers (peaking at 339,000 during the 10:00-10:15 pm quarter-hour as the game came to an exciting close).

On Friday, Ethan Strauss of The Athletic laid out which NBA teams are the most popular on national TV and the Nets are right up there with the two L.A. teams and the Warriors. He looked at the ratings for games outside what are described as “tentpole” events, like Opening Night, Christmas and MLK Day.

The Nets, Strauss wrote, are now the fourth, maybe third most popular team on national TV with more than 1.2 million viewers on average ... and the most popular outside California, supplanting the Celtics. (It’s hard to tell if Thursday’s ratings were included in the numbers.)

Despite the listing, I think the Nets are the third-biggest draw in the NBA, if not better. This average number has been confounded by injuries and absences. Also, the Nets are hurt here because their fine MLK Day numbers aren’t part of the average.

Casual fans are interested in this team, as well they should be. Nobody can rightly know whether this is a championship squad, inevitable locker room disaster or both. In another era, they might be marketed as compelling villains, similar to how LeBron’s Heat were. By constantly explaining the actions of Brooklyn’s talented mercenaries, NBA media members could be doing the Nets a disservice. These are natural heels, fun to root for or against. Let them take that mantle.

Moreover, for the Brooklyn fan, it must be noted that national TV brings out the best in their team. They are 9-1 on ABC, TNT and ESPN, losing only to the Raptors on February 5. Sunday’s game vs. the Clippers at Staples Center will be telecast on ESPN, marking the fourth national game on the Nets five-game West Coast trip.

The numbers are also reflected in League Pass audiences, both in the U.S. and overseas. The “Big Three” debut in late January, which wasn’t carried nationally, was League Pass’ most-viewed game in the U.S. — and fourth most-viewed game across the globe — this season.

Creating a national and international fan base for Brooklyn is something that has been the franchise’s goal since the Nets moved to Brooklyn in 2012. The hope was a good team tied to the borough’s worldwide popularity (and an international owner) would do the trick. It may be too early to say that, but it’s also hard to dismiss it anymore.

And we’re not even talking about local ratings which have increased 69 percent since James Harden joined KD and Kyrie to form the “Big Three.”