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Cavs won't say Spurs are better than Pistons

The San Antonio Spurs had only the third-best record in their own conference, but would have won the other one with room to spare.

So is the lack of competitiveness in the NBA finals a simple matter of East vs. West?

The Cleveland Cavaliers stormed back from a 2-0 deficit in the Eastern Conference finals to knock off top-seeded Detroit in six games. The Cavs are right back in the same hole after two games this time, but against an opponent that seems a whole lot tougher than the Pistons were.

The Cavs think there's more to it than that.

"People talk about East and West and it's neither here nor there," Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. "I think the East has won two of the last three (titles) or something like that. It really doesn't matter. San Antonio is a great team, too, and we just have to figure out that we've got to play harder than what we've been playing right now."

The Pistons were the East's best in the regular season, but that wasn't saying much in a weak conference. Detroit won only 53 games, a total that would have ranked only fourth in the West - five games behind San Antonio.

The Cavs know some people have dismissed them as true title contenders because the East presented them with such an easy path to the finals. Their first two playoff opponents, seventh-seeded Washington and No. 6 New Jersey, both were only 41-41 during the regular season. Meanwhile, San Antonio had to go through Phoenix, a 61-win team, just to get out of the second round.

Still, the Cavs won't say the reason for their struggles is simply that the Spurs are better than the Pistons.

"I think it's just an upgrade from series to series, from the first round to the second round, conference finals, and then to finals it's an upgrade," LeBron James said. "It doesn't matter who it is, the intensity level automatically picks up. The team is better. It doesn't matter if it's Detroit or the Spurs. Every round gets a little harder."

LeBron far and wide

LeBron James expects the city of Cleveland to be excited when the NBA finals come to town after a 37-year wait for Game 3 tonight.

"It's definitely going to be a great experience," he said.

But James didn't want to leave anyone out who might be a Cavaliers fan, so he quickly added that it will be great "for northeast Ohio."

And then - perhaps fearing he'd alienated other Cavs fans, who this year are seeing the team go to the finals for the first time since the team was born in 1970 - he self-edited again: "For the whole state of Ohio."

Having sufficiently covered everyone, James proceeded to throw out a command to Cavaliers lovers far and wide.

"If you're not there, I expect you to try to get there," he said.

But James, who is largely responsible for bringing the NBA finals to Cleveland, apparently won't be much help in bringing people to the arena.

"No," he said, when asked what he's telling people who ask him for tickets.

Let's go shopping

Cleveland fans waited more than 35 years to own something commemorating a conference championship. And once they had their chance, they bought plenty of those goods.

The Cavaliers' Eastern Conference champions locker room T-shirt and hat set an record for most conference championship units sold, the NBA announced Monday. The previous record was set when the Los Angeles Lakers won the 2004 West title.

The Cavs, who joined the NBA for the 1970-71 season, had played in the conference finals only twice, losing in 1976 and '92 before beating Detroit in six games.

Cleveland's finals run also did wonders for sales of LeBron James' jersey. His was the most popular at both the NBA store and the Web site during the playoffs, and he finished third in overall jersey sales for the season.

The Cavs moved up three spots to fifth in team sales, but there's still little appreciation for the San Antonio Spurs. They were only ninth, with Tim Duncan their top individual performer at No. 15.

Kobe Bryant topped the final results, knocking Dwyane Wade down to second. Allen Iverson and Steve Nash rounded out the top five.

The Lakers had the most popular jersey for the fifth straight season.

Break time

Neither team practiced Monday, opting only to travel to Cleveland.

For the veteran Spurs, loaded with older players, the day off was probably welcomed. But Bruce Bowen, about to turn 36, thought his team would look forward to getting back on the floor.

The Spurs played a disappointing fourth quarter Sunday in Game 2, getting outscored 30-14 and letting Cleveland cut what had been a 29-point deficit down to single digits. And the best way to make up for that is doing it right the next time.

"We know we didn't play particularly well," Bowen said after the game. "When we go through our film session and things of that nature, I'm sure guys are going to want to get back on the court to make up for the effort we gave in the fourth quarter."

Not Gooden-ough?

Drew Gooden has been one of Cleveland's most effective players in the NBA finals, averaging 13.5 points and making 12 of 21 shots.

But Mike Brown is a defensive-minded coach, so it takes more than just good play on the offensive end to impress him. And it doesn't seem Gooden has delivered enough to this point.

Asked about Gooden's offense following Game 2, Brown agreed that Gooden can score. But he made it clear he's looking for more.

"Drew can score points," Brown said. "But with Drew, it's not just about scoring points. We've got to make sure that we're focused, and this includes Drew, at the beginning of the ballgame, with defensive assignments and little things."

Gooden was involved in one of Cleveland's many ugly moments in the first half. Apparently thinking he was being taken out of the game, he slowly walked toward the bench and stood talking to Brown along the sideline. But Gooden was still in the game, and the Spurs quickly inbounded and pushed the ball up the floor with hopes of a 5-on-4 posses-sion.

A hit from 'Sopranos'?

Game 2 of the NBA finals took a hit in the TV ratings, and the series finale of "The Sopranos" was the prime suspect.

The Spurs' 103-92 victory over the Cavaliers on Sunday night drew a 6.9 overnight rating on ABC, down 24 percent from last year's 9.1 for Game 2 between the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat. Ratings for "The Sopranos" finale on HBO were not immediately available.


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