•With the NBA playoffs nearly upon us, it's time to give the CBS announcing crew its mark for regular-season coverage. I think the CBS team has improved over the last year and deserves a B-plus, primarily because Billy Cunningham has replaced Tommy Heinsohn as expert commentator. The thing about Heinsohn, who will now work with Brent Musburger on a number of backup playoff games, is that he sounds like Fred Flintstone and has a habit of talking over plays. Cunningham, in contrast, has a much less oppressive on-air demeanor and works more smoothly with play-by-play announcer Dick Stockton.

Cunningham could stand to be more specific at times, but he makes his comments quickly and is capable of coming up with shrewd observations. For example, during the Boston-Philadelphia game on April 10, he noticed that the Celtics regulars were playing with more intensity from the opening minute than they had earlier in the season. The reason? They were now more confident with their bench and, therefore, didn't have to pace themselves.

Billy C's primary drawback is his reluctance to dish out criticism. That doesn't mean he has to be as abrasive as Hubie Brown, another former coach, could be. But he needs to understand that his constituency now is his viewers, not his friends in the locker room.

•Again this year, Musburger, like ragweed pollen, seems to be everywhere. But after watching him cover the Masters for six years, I still haven't figured out what he adds to the show, other than serving as a bailout for Masters chairman Hord Hardin during the green-jacket Q. and A. Even though producer Frank Chirkinian seemed to reduce Musburger's airtime, I still found myself yearning for the cameras to return to Pat Summerall at the 18th hole whenever Musburger and his clubhouse sidekick, Tom Weiskopf, tried to put things in perspective.

It's not that Musburger isn't competent. It's just that, like Howard Cosell, he sometimes hypes an event incessantly. The same isn't true with NBC announcers Bob Costas or Dick Enberg. Maybe Musburger should limit his appearances or tone down his salesmanship before the viewers get Brented out.

•There's method to the seeming madness of the Desert Scramble, the who-cares $300,000 golf match dreamed up by Jack Nicklaus and scheduled for a pay-per-view broadcast on April 25. It's a gimmick to sell real estate—the event will be held on a Nicklaus-designed course at Desert Mountain, a new development in Scottsdale, Ariz.—but the PGA has sanctioned it as an experiment. "If this thing has a good run, I can envision one or two events per year, if not more, going the pay-per-view route," says PGA communications director Terry Hanson. One possible candidate: the Players Championship after its NBC contract expires in 1991.

•Too bad NBC hasn't invited stats whiz Steve Hirdt back to its Saturday baseball pregame show. On the season premiere April 9, Hirdt had some interesting insights. He pointed out that the Chicago Cubs' Leon Durham and the San Diego Padres' John Kruk are among the majors' most overrated and underrated players, respectively, and that, since 1900, only 12 teams have won league or division titles after going 3-7 or worse in the first 10 games. Sayonara, Milwaukee and St. Louis.

•ABC boxing commentator Alex Wallau's return to the air for the Rocky Lockridge-Harold Knight fight on April 2 was a special occasion for boxing fans. Wallau is without peer as a TV boxing analyst; he has no shtick—just a gift for making lucid, intelligent commentary. When Knight changed his style and began to dance in Round 4, Wallau said the boxer was risking losing the fight. That pithy assessment turned out to be the story of the bout.

What made the broadcast particularly moving, however, was the fact that the 43-year-old announcer is suffering from a virulent form of throat cancer. He was making his TV comeback six months to the day after his diagnosis, having undergone three operations on his throat and neck. His broadcast partner, Al Michaels, who lost his father to cancer in 1983, has called Wallau virtually every day since he got the bad news in October.

"People tell me I'm courageous," Wallau says, "but a person is courageous only when he's faced with a choice. I don't have a choice." Wallau's next scheduled appearance is ABC's U.S.-Cuba amateur box-off on April 30.

PHOTOBILL BAPTISTA little more tartness would make Cunningham better still.

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