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Shaun Powell

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Solid and steady Tim Duncan (right) has the Spurs among the West elite once again.
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images

Like it or not, the Spurs could end up on your TV come June


Posted Apr 12 2012 10:23AM

Commissioner David Stern is more than thrilled to cite high TV ratings, overall fan satisfaction and other assorted good vibes associated with a season which has gone totally counter to the grim predictions made months ago when the lockout ended.

The NBA has been on a sweet roll since December, with Linsanity, the MVP duel between LeBron James and Kevin Durant, the rejuvenation of the Celtics and what not. It's enough to make you hyped with anticipation over what's next.

But look out, now ... here come the Spurs, putting their championship game-face on, which makes some folks turn their attention to baseball.

There's nothing that screams "ratings disaster" in June more than the Spurzzzzzz, a team everyone respects but that manages to charm and mesmerize almost no one outside of San Antonio. Somewhere, there's probably a network executive sticking pins through a Tim Duncan doll, frightfully aware there's no "fun" in "The Big Fundamental."

The networks had the Spurs in mind when the national TV schedule was cooked up last season. Guess how many times the Spurs made the ABC lineup this season? About as many times as Gregg Popovich cracks a smile when he's interviewed during a timeout.

Good as they've been for more than a decade, the Spurs just can't move the needle. They play basketball the way Naismith drew it up, but get fewer viewers than C-Span3. They reached (and won) four NBA Finals while America rolled over and took a nap. And now that they're the hottest team around and peaking at the right time, there's fear that dreams of a Durant vs. LeBron NBA Finals may vaporize faster than a Bobcats home crowd.

The overall lack of public sizzle about the Spurs has always been a mystery and, honestly, somewhat of a disappointment. Yes, it's true they don't play above the rim or sell shoes. Still, they are an organization that takes care of its business, doesn't sell its soul to knucklehead players, is a positive part of the community and they win. Every year. And yet, they still generate a Sacramento Kings-like following when they compete for a title.

I never understood this, but then, I was a big fan of Pete Sampras, the tennis version of the Spurs.

Maybe the biggest myth is the Spurs aren't exciting to watch. Duncan, only the best power forward of his generation if not all time, gets that billing because all he does is make layups and bank shots. You know, the high-percentage ones that win games.

But Tony Parker? Maybe you missed the spin move he executed on Devin Harris the other day, dropping a layup with a finger roll that was softer than your grandmother's touch. Parker is an "old" 29 and still ankle-breaking quick as ever.

"Our goal is to win a championship," said Parker. "Tim and I haven't got a lot of time left."

And Manu Ginobili? There probably isn't a player in basketball who uses his body better. Ginobili is a master at high-risk hoops, who reaches the rim at weird angles and who's willing to sacrifice a limb if that's what it takes to snatch a loose ball. That's boring?

The Spurs, for all of their supposed snoozy-ness, are third in scoring, generating more buckets than the Heat, Bulls, Lakers and Knicks. When you drop 102 a game, as the Spurs do, a fair share of those points are creatively accomplished.

The real beauty is how, once again, a supporting cast is blending together to supplement the Big Three. Gary Neal, DeJuan Blair, Kawhi Leonard (as well as the newly added Boris Diaw and Patty Mills) are all filling the necessary gaps. And for nostalgia's sake, Stephen Jackson is back and quick with the trigger, both the emotional and itchy-finger kind.

"We approach the game and play it the right way, and hopefully it rewards us at the end of the season," Jackson said.

The Spurs currently lead the NBA in local TV ratings, according to the Sports Business Journal. But that's no surprise given their dominance in a supportive, one-pony town.

Suppose they reach The Finals, though? Then you can only go on history.

Three of their four trips there generated the lowest ratings since 1979, the pre-Bird-and-Magic era (also known as the NBA's Dark Ages). It didn't help that two of the Spurs' Finals were against the Nets and Cavaliers. Plus, the networks are so star-driven in their playoff promotion that the concept of team play gets ignored. The Spurs just aren't built for prime time.

They are, however, ready and built to go deep into the postseason, especially after getting ambushed last spring in the first round by Memphis. Like 'em or not, when it comes to reaching the Finals and winning rings, don't sleep on the Spurs.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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