- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Cavaliers are down to the hope that comes with a change in venue and the prayers of their faithful.

Their full-blown ineptitude against the Spurs shifts to Cleveland in Game 3 of the NBA Finals tonight.

A basketball nation already has taken notes and decided that the Spurs-Cavaliers finale is not appealing. Foregone conclusions rarely are.

Game 1 drew 6.3 percent of U.S. households with televisions, down 19 percent from the opener last year. It was the lowest rating ever for a Game 1 held in prime time.

That speaks to the lack of transcendent power of LeBron James, who leads the NBA in scowls, rubbery-faced contortions and other displays of extraneous emotions that prompt potential crossover viewers to ask, “Does this poor fellow have Tourette’s syndrome?”

Nike and the NBA have invested an awful lot in the 22-year-old James, which has resulted in meager returns after two games of the NBA Finals.

He has shown he is not ready for prime time, either as a player or personality.

Many of his numbers, unimpressive though they are, have come after each affair was settled.

James suggested he would make adjustments after a 14-point Game 1. It turned out his principal adjustment was getting into early foul trouble in Game 2.

James and the Cavaliers have failed to show they can be competitive against the Spurs.

If the Eastern Conference was believed to be the junior varsity to the Western Conference’s varsity going into the NBA Finals, the Cavaliers only have confirmed it after two games.

The Cavaliers hope the passion of the home crowd and the comfort of familiar surroundings lift them out of their inertia.

“It’s definitely going to be a great experience,” James says. “It’s going to be something that hasn’t been experienced in a long, long time for our city, for our fans. It’s going to be electrifying.”

To be historically accurate, the Cavaliers will be playing in their first NBA Finals game in Cleveland.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich expects to see a rejuvenated opponent. Of course, as a coach, he is programmed to imagine the worst.

“It’ll be a huge challenge,” he says. “They’ve played well there, and I think they’ll feel a lot looser, a lot more aggressive in a lot of ways. So I think it will be a tremendous challenge for us. I think the place will be rocking, without a doubt.”

A home crowd, however raucous, is not equipped to resolve the fundamental deficiencies of the Cavaliers.

They have no one to keep Tony Parker out of the three-second lane. They all but implored Parker to shoot from outside in Game 2, and yet he still managed to slice his way to the basket en route to 30 points.

If the Cavaliers devote a help defender to Parker, that is liable to increase Tim Duncan’s maneuvering room around the basket.

Duncan already has humiliated Zydrunas Ilgauskas so far.

The Lithuanian has misplaced his normally reliable perimeter shot and has resorted to throwing up a hideous-looking hook shot out of desperation.

The hobbled Larry Hughes has gone from bad to worse in the two games. He was basically a nonentity in Game 2, with no points, two rebounds, two assists, two turnovers and one steal in 20 minutes.

Other than James possibly having a big game, the Cavaliers don’t appear to have any genuine counters to the Spurs.

If the Cavaliers have the look of a team that is out of hope, rookie guard Daniel Gibson thinks it is a good thing.

“We want people to think that,” he says. “But in this locker room, we don’t think so at all. You have to win four games to win the series. I think it is still 2-0, so we have a chance to win four.”

There also is a chance Duncan could break a leg before the game tonight and Parker could elope with Eva Longoria.

The Cavaliers’ chances of winning four games in this series are in the company of those long-shot propositions.

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