MIAMI — It won’t be the NBA Finals, but neither will it be just another regular-season game when the San Antonio Spurs visit Miami on Sunday afternoon.
The Spurs will be making their second visit to AmericanAirlines Arena — if one counts the preseason — since losing Games 6 and 7 in last season’s Finals.
A meeting of two teams built for June certainly rates as more than just another game, especially considering that Ray Allen’s score-tying 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds left in regulation of Game 6 denied the Spurs a title.
After Miami defeated Eastern Conference-leading Indiana on Dec. 18, Chris Bosh said such games sprinkled throughout the regular season were good to have because they create heightened awareness and focus. Following Sunday’s game, Miami will get ready for another significant visit by Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City on Wednesday night.
”Emotionally, it puts you in different places,” Allen said after Saturday morning’s practice. ”The competition is going to be greater. You get challenged in different ways.
”The teams that are below .500 that have young players, that’s an intense challenge — greater than what people think. And obviously, when you play one of the top 5 teams in the NBA, that challenge stretches you even emotionally. So we’ll be ready.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, however, warned of putting too much emphasis on any one game.
”We’re still trying to get to the process of getting better, and that doesn’t just happen with the games where you circle on the calendar,” Spoelstra said. ”Clearly, we have ultimate respect for the Spurs organization and what we went through last year was harrowing. We never had any idea whether we were going to make it through or not.
”We talk about serial success. They’ve proven that for 15 years. It’s remarkable what they’ve been able to do as an organization.”
Sunday’s nationally televised Heat-Spurs game undoubtedly will include highlights from seven months earlier.
”It definitely brings back some memories because we played them in the Finals,” LeBron James said. ”They say it was one of the greatest Finals that the NBA has seen. I was ecstatic, excited, humbled and blessed to be part of that.
”It will bring back some memories, but we understand it is a regular-season game and not an NBA Finals game.”
If this were early summer, Dwyane Wade likely would be certain to start. But that’s not a guarantee during a regular season in which he and the team are taking measures — i.e. Wade missing games — to protecting the All-Star guard’s knees.
Wade, inactive the past four games, practiced Saturday. His status for the Spurs won’t be known until Sunday.
”There’s going to be a little something there for both sides,” Wade said. ”They’re coming in here, a place where they lost Game 7, where they lost a championship that they had in hand. So those memories will come back and obviously they’re going to want to win.
”We want to continue to play better and we want to win, so it’ll be a very competitive game, maybe have a playoff atmosphere.”
Both teams have dealt with injuries and have used various lineups as they aim for another NBA Finals appearance.
”The quicker that we’re able to embrace that this year’s different, the challenges are different and the fact we’ve had different starting lineups and a different rotation,” Spoelstra said, ”the quicker we can conquer it.”
No matter what happens Sunday, the game likely won’t mean anything if the two teams meet in the playoffs.
”Last year in the regular season, we had a pretty good game that went down to the wire and that had nothing to do with what we did in the (NBA) Finals,” Allen said. ”It’s a great matchup and we look forward to playing the game.”