Tony Soprano can be blamed for a lot of things, not the least of which is leaving us hanging while he and his family calmly ate onion rings the other night.
Just don't blame him for whacking the NBA finals. For that, the Cleveland Cavaliers are public enemy No. 1.
Things got so bad in San Antonio the other night that not even a desperate housewife could make things interesting. Eva Longoria was courtside as usual, but when LeBron James didn't show up for the first half there wasn't much else worth looking at.
The ratings reflected that, though there was speculation Tony and his gang might have had something to do with the game losing a big chunk of the viewers who watched last year's Game 2 between Dallas and Miami.
But even America's favorite wise guy couldn't dream of doing something as big as rubbing out interest in what increasingly looks like one of the biggest mismatches in finals history.
Pin that on the player who would be king, and a band of court jesters who might as well have been watching the final episode of ``The Sopranos'' for all the good they were in the first two games of this series.
James was never going to win this finals by himself, not against a team with a superstar of its own, a guy playing for his seventh ring, and an international cast of characters. Even Michael Jordan wouldn't have beaten these Spurs if he didn't have teammates by the name of Pippen, Grant and Paxson.
James, of course, has carried the burden of being labeled the next Jordan even before he was drafted out of high school four years ago to play for the Cavs. So both the Nike marketing machine and the NBA had to be salivating when he led his team to an upset win over Detroit to make the finals.
But now this is simply a classic case of too much, too soon, with too little help.
James struggled in the first game, and got into early foul trouble in the second. He did manage to make the game somewhat interesting in the fourth quarter on Sunday, but by then the outcome had long been decided.
About all Cavaliers coach Mike Brown could do was find solace in the fact his team didn't quit. That and look forward to a week in Cleveland, where the Cavaliers will at least have some comfortable beds to sleep in and a crowd that might get them interested in the series once again.
``It'll be a huge challenge,'' Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said while presumably trying hard to keep a straight face. ``They've played well there, and I think they'll feel a lot looser, a lot more aggressive in a lot of ways.''
The problem for the Cavaliers, though, runs much deeper than being loose and aggressive. They have James, but they're up against a much better and much more experienced team that goes calmly about its business no matter who is put in front of them.
Tim Duncan is the best inside player in the game, Manu Ginobili is the finest sixth man in the league, and Tony Parker is becoming as big a star as his main squeeze and future wife. Add in Robert Horry, who has six rings already and doesn't flinch at taking the big shot when needed, and there's a lot to like about the Spurs.
The Cavaliers, meanwhile, counter with James, James and James.
That hasn't been enough to be competitive with the Spurs, or enough to make America pay attention. With teams in small markets in the finals, ratings are down despite the best efforts to hype James as the face of this series.
ABC is getting so desperate that not only are its cameras focusing in on Longoria, but that her upcoming marriage to Parker was discussed during halftime of Game 2. Can't blame the network, though, for trying to salvage some publicity for ``Desperate Housewives'' even as its investment in the finals evaporates.
The fans in Cleveland, meanwhile, are trying to do their part. They have to because not only have the Cavaliers not won a title in their 37 years but no major sports team in the city has won a championship since the Browns upset the Baltimore Colts in the 1964 NFL title game.
To help out, the mayor of Cleveland asked all businesses in the downtown are to keep their lights on until midnight every night the Cavs play. That could disorient the Spurs, who come from a city not used to having lights on that late.
Actually, the Cavaliers may win a game because this is the NBA, after all, and things do happen. Sweeps aren't good for the league or its ratings, and ABC will take a big advertising hit if there is no game in primetime next Sunday night.
But don't count on the series returning to San Antonio for Game 6. The Spurs are too talented, too motivated, and too relentless to let that happen.
Tony Soprano is finally done. This series won't last much longer.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at

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