July 29, 2014

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Spurs hope for a little

SAN ANTONIO — The LeBron James NBA Finals start tonight at 9.
At least that’s how the underappreciated San Antonio Spurs, who host the Cavaliers in Game 1 at the AT&T Center, are approaching the best-of-seven series.
“The fact LeBron made the finals is probably good for TV ratings,” Spurs guard Tony Parker said Wednesday afternoon. “Even if people think we’re boring, we’re still going to play good basketball and effective basketball.”
San Antonio, which won NBA championships in 1999, 2003 and 2005, is in the finals for the fourth time in nine years, but still feels like it gets slighted by national television networks and magazines because it lacks genuine star power on its roster.
“It’s wonderful for the NBA and it’s wonderful for NBA fans,” Spurs star Tim Duncan said of James being in the finals. “We’re not worried about who gets the hype. We’re worried about winning four games.”
The Spurs, despite all their talk about not being the center of attention, are the odds-on favorite to do just that. And if they do, it will probably be the understated and quietly effective Duncan leading the way.
“I am what I am,” the 7-footer from the Virgin Islands said. “I don’t know how else to explain it. I’ve been the same my whole life. It is what it is. But if there’s some endorsements out there you can send my way, I’ll take them.”
The last comment was in reference to the fact Duncan is not nearly as well known on an international and national scale as James, whose deals with the likes of Nike, Sprite, Microsoft and Bubblicious total well over $100 million.
“I can’t relate to him in any way,” said Duncan, who as a rookie in 1997 joined a Spurs team that already featured David Robinson, Sean Elliott, Mario Elie and Avery Johnson. “I was in a much different situation. I was on a veteran squad. I was a piece to the puzzle. He’s a much bigger piece to the puzzle.”
On the subject of puzzles, the Spurs, who will start 11-year veteran Bruce Bowen on James, want to make their defenses as tough as possible for the Cleveland small forward to figure out.
“LeBron is a great player,” Parker said. “I don’t think you can stop him. You can contain him, but it’s going to take the whole team.”
Even then, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, James “could still make chicken salad, if you know what I mean.”
Exactly how James will react to the pressure of his first NBA Finals won’t begin to be unraveled until tonight, but he’s been creating, meeting and exceeding expectations most of his life.
“Sometimes he acts like he’s 18,” Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said when asked if his superstar acted 22. “He’s just a good-natured individual. He likes to have fun. … But when it gets time to lace up the shoes and get out on the hardwood, he’s a pretty focused individual.”
Said James: “As a basketball player, I don’t feel 22 until I get off the court. Then I’m back to doing my video games and running around the house with my son. That’s when I feel 22 again.”
Ultimately, the 6-foot-8, 240-pounder would like to feel like an NBA champion.
“He’s too talented and too driven to not win one at some point,” Brown said. “I agree with the talk that in order to be considered one of the greatest, you should have at least one of those on your resume. It’s a matter of time for him.”
The Spurs, of course, already have three titles, but pardon them if they sometimes feel like a lot of people are overlooking that fact.
“During the season, everybody talked about Phoenix and Dallas,” Parker said. “It’s OK with us. We like to be in this position.
“It’s normal to talk about something new. It’s (James’) first finals. People always want to talk about LeBron.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rickn@ohio.net.

tonight
WHO: Clevelandat San Antonio
TIME: 9 o’clock
WHERE: AT&T Center, San Antonio
TV/RADIO: Channel 5; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM