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Atlantans like NBA, not Hawks

The Hawks have made it hard to be an NBA fan in Atlanta. They have been here for 38 years without winning, or even playing for, a league championship. They haven't made the playoffs, or even had a winning season, in seven years.

The city has responded by turning away, putting the Hawks near the bottom of the league in attendance for the past decade.

And yet Dominique Wilkins, the former Hawks star, says: "I think Atlanta is a good NBA town that can become a great NBA town."

That contention might seem far-fetched if you've seen Philips Arena on one of its half-empty nights. But there are strong arguments, too, that an NBA town does exist amidst the Hawks' rubble:

- TV ratings. The league scores high with Atlanta TV viewers. For the 2005 NBA Finals, Atlanta posted the highest TV rating of any market without a home-state team participating; for the 2006 Finals, Atlanta had the third highest rating among non-participant markets. Atlanta tunes in to the earlier postseason rounds, too, and last year's All-Star Game drew a higher rating in Atlanta than all but three other markets. And for regular-season games on TNT the past two seasons, Atlanta's ratings were 12th and 16th highest, respectively, among the top 57 markets.

- Attendance spikes. Even in the Hawks' leanest seasons, marquee opponents tend to draw capacity crowds. The Hawks say they expect to sell out tonight's game against the Cavaliers and star player LeBron James, as they did last month's game against the NBA champion Heat.

- Surveys. Polling by Scarborough Research pegs the number of NBA fans in metro Atlanta at a robust 1.35-million.

Such factors suggest that Atlanta likes the NBA in larger numbers than it likes the Hawks, and perhaps that there's a fan base convertible to the Hawks when or if the team becomes a compelling winner.

BOWLING? WE'RE TALKING ABOUT BOWLING!: Allen Iverson didn't attend a "meet and greet" event with sponsors and premium seat-holders at a Philadelphia bowling alley Wednesday night, and coach Maurice Cheeks told the Philadelphia Daily News he "will be fined accordingly." The paper reported that Iverson was upset when he left practice Wednesday morning. Cheeks said Iverson left early because he was "fatigued." When asked if Iverson was upset, Cheeks replied, "Whatever happened between him and me, I'd like to keep that private."

Meantime, forward Shavlik Randolph broke his left ankle at practice Thursday when he landed on the foot of Andre Iguodala. Randolph averaged 4.5 points and 4.2 rebounds and started the past six games in Chris Webber's absence. He was undrafted after a three-year career at Duke.

MAVERICKS: Forward Dirk Nowitzki didn't practice because of bruised right retina, but was listed as probable for tonight's game against Sacramento.

SONICS: Hall-of-Famer Lenny Wilkens was named vice chairman in addition to his role as a television broadcaster for the team. Wilkens, who has the most wins in NBA history, will oversee community relations and other business activities for the Sonics and Seattle Storm of the WNBA, and will also be an adviser within the teams' basketball operations, the club said.

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