No one seems to notice, but the Spurs are a threat to win their fifth NBA title -

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ORLANDO—About 50 people stood staring at an empty chair. A few yards away, Tony Parker happily held court for five or six reporters.

Such is life with San Antonio. People are more interested in Kobe Bryant doing nothing than whatever the Spurs are up to.

Lately, they've been up to a lot of confounding wins. So many that they have the second-best record in the Western Conference. Charles Barkley, the esteemed winning coach in Friday night's Rising Stars Challenge, has declared them the best team in the West.

All of which has barely registered on the All-Star Weekend radar. It's been all about Linsanity, Kevin Durant's movie debut, Dwight Howard's future and the Lakers' present.

That's why Kobe Bryant's empty chair was so popular at Friday's media day. Everybody wondered if Kobe would pop off about the latest Lakers stumble. After about 40 minutes of waiting and staring, an NBA spokesman said Bryant had called in sick.

Maybe he read that L.A. was signing Rasheed Wallace, presumably not to play point guard. Whatever the case, Kobe's chair had no comment.

None of the reporters ventured over to Parker's table. Since divorcing Eva Longoria, what's there to ask?

The Spurs are the most overlooked and underappreciated dynasty in American sports history. They have four titles since 1999. But TV cameras often spent more time showing Longoria cheering than Tim Duncan hitting another boring bank shot.

These Spurs were supposed to be way too old and beat up to bother with again. The Holy Trinity of Parker, Duncan and Manu Ginobili are like a combined 178 years old. Ginobili missed 22 games with a broken finger, and is currently shelved with an oblique strain. Yet San Antonio just finished a road trip 8-1 and eased into the All-Star break with a 24-10 record.

"It's been a weird season for us," Parker said.

Younger players like Tiago Splitter, DeJuan Blair, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard have helped. But with Ginobili out, it's been mainly Parker's show.

"I have to be in attack mode all the time," he said.

Attacking the basket, not the front office. That's Kobe's schtick, and we devour every twist in the Lakers ongoing soap opera.

Today, Rasheed. Tomorrow, Dennis Rodman?

Or will Howard somehow, someway ride to Kobe's rescue right before the trade deadline?

"We're not going to talk about it right now," Howard has told prying reporters all weekend.

Durant has been happy to talk about "Thunderstruck." The movie comes out this summer, but the studio showed a clip on Friday. Durant assured journalists that with the movie, he wants to promote Oklahoma City, not campaign for a Best Actor nomination.

"Seeing 'Thunder' everywhere makes me feel good," he said.

The other big Hollywood story is the Clippers, whose media campaign is aided by nightly highlights of Chris Paul tossing alley-oops to Blake Griffin.

"I cannot throw a lot of lobs in San Antonio," Parker laughed.

Duncan just can't sky like he used to. His 35-year-old legs aren't at the All-Star Game. It's the first one he's missed in 15 years.

"It's weird," Parker said. "But I know how happy he is to be on vacation."

Speaking of weird little vacations, Duncan and Parker were held out Tuesday night in Portland. Greg Popovich didn't care that his team was on an 11-game win streak. It was time to "put some money in the bank," he said.

The Trailblazers won by 40 points, but so what? In this condensed season, Popovich knows resting his studs will pay off when it matters. Poor Kobe is logging 38.2 minutes a night, with no end in sight.

Duncan couldn't be happier not to be here. He'll get six days of R & R, and he doesn't have to answer one question about Jeremy Lin.

Parker has answered a few. Occasionally the conversation has even turned to his own team.

"Hopefully we can stay healthy. That's the key for us," Parker said. "We can't wait for (Ginobili) to get back, because we're not going anywhere without Manu."

The last time the NBA had a lockout-shortened season, guess which team won the title? That's an odd storyline, though it will rank way down the NBA list over the next few months.

We'll fixate on LeBron's quest for redemption and what Lin had for lunch. We'll gather around Howard and whatever chair Kobe is supposed to sit in.

As fascinating as all that is, history should have taught us to appreciate one thing: Don't be shocked if the Spurs are the last team standing.

26 Feb, 2012

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