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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Wednesday, May 21, 2008 - Love It Or Hate It...The Spurs

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Love It Or Hate It...The Spurs


By Sarah Spain
Love of Sports Correspondent

Sunday night, the last piece of the NBA Finals puzzle was put into place when the San Antonio Spurs defeated the New Orleans Hornets, 91-82.

Of the four remaining teams, three of them — the Lakers, Pistons and Spurs — have all hoisted the Larry O'Brien Trophy in the last decade, and the Spurs won it all just last year.

Left at home? The upstart Hornets, who in their 20-year franchise history have yet to advance to the conference finals.

So, what's better for the NBA? A Finals featuring the defending NBA champion Spurs or the next-generation Hornets?

San Antonio's been crowned king three of the last five years, using patient offense and aggressive defense to outlast its opponents. Sunday night, with the series even at three-all, the Spurs responded as champions do, eeking out a huge Game 7 road win. Yet, despite their clutch play and dynastic dominance, the Spurs are one of the least-liked teams in the league and are consistently cursed by poor ratings.

Spurs haters are quick to point out the team's many foibles. Manu Ginobili flops more than a crooked politician seeking office. Robert Horry is a cheap-shot artist sent out to injure opposing players. Bruce Bowen's hard fouls make playground hacks look like all-ball. (When asked how he would respond had a player intentionally stuck his foot under his feet while shooting — as Bowen is wont to do — Isiah Thomas once said "I'd beat the $%*@ out of somebody. Really, I would *$%@$ murder them ... There's certain things you don't do.")

And, of course, Tony Parker is French AND had the audacity to marry a hot Hollywood actress. The nerve.

Even Tim Duncan, arguably the greatest power forward in NBA history, isn't safe from criticism. The big man leads quietly, letting his play on the court speak for him. This mild-mannered carriage makes him a respectable guy, but a decidedly boring superstar — no glitz, no glamour, just good, fundamental basketball.

It's this slow, half-court style of play that has fans calling for an overthrow of the Spurs monarchy.

New Orleans was just the team the fans were calling for. Like a batch of hot college freshman thrust into a pool of fifth-year seniors, the Hornets brought new life and excitement to the playoffs.

Led by Chris Paul, a bona fide superstar with a baby face and a killer instinct, the Hornets surprised everyone this season, falling just one game short of the league's best regular season record.

Throughout the playoffs, every time Paul touched the ball fans held their breath in anticipation. And for those who think talent isn't enough, not only is the kid a baller, he's also likeable.

Where Duncan is stoic, Paul is unbridled. He's the perfect mix of old-school respect and new-school flash. He doesn't have to pop his jersey or let out a primal yell after a sick dish, he just plays with enthusiasm and heart and keeps fans on the edge of their seats with his lightning-quick hands.

Tyson Chandler reaped the benefits of those hands all season, becoming an alley-oop machine. The guy who many thought was a first-round bust after a weak showing with the Bulls has found his game again in New Orleans. With Chandler dominating above the rim and West and Peja draining J's, fans thought the Hornets were going to step in and save the world from the soulless Spurs.

I guess it just wasn't the Hornets time - yet. After Sunday's loss, NBA Coach of the Year Byron Scott said, "You don't go from not making the playoffs to winning a championship. It just doesn't work that way … We're headed in the right direction."

Should the league be praying that teams like the Hornets mature into title contenders or is the strengthening of a dynasty's legacy even more meaningful to the sport?

Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls won six championships in eight years. All six of their NBA Finals series rank in the Top 10 highest-rated Finals since 1976, including the top four spots on the list. Meanwhile, three of the Spurs' last four titles are in the Top 10 LOWEST-rated Finals, including the top — er, bottom — spot on the list.

When did good, fundamental basketball become so abhorrent? Dynasties are generally accepted to be good for professional sports, so why are the NBA and its fans so ready to say goodbye to these Spurs?

Are Spurs haters just jealous of the team's success or is San Antonio single-handedly putting the NBA to sleep? Would Chris Paul and the Hornets be a better matchup for the new-look Lakers or do the Bees need more time to sharpen their stingers?

Are you Lovin' or Hatin' the Spurs return to the conference finals?


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