Heat-Spurs Preview

By the time the Miami Heat get on their plane to come home late

Sunday night, they could have a stranglehold on the race to finish

with the NBA’s best record.

All they have to do is win at San Antonio. That, of course, is

no easy task.

The Heat (57-15) take a two-game lead in the NBA standings over

the Spurs (55-17) into their matchup on Sunday. A win would

essentially provide Miami a four-game cushion with nine remaining,

given that the Heat also would control any potential head-to-head

tiebreaker with San Antonio.

If the Heat lose, the race for home-court advantage throughout

the entirety of the playoffs could turn into a frantic,

down-to-the-wire deal.

”It’s always good to play the best, to play against the best,”

LeBron James said. ”It’ll be an opportunity for us. We just want

to get better, man. The game Sunday doesn’t define our season or

how we go from there. We just want to continue to move forward and

get better throughout the rest of the season.”

Miami has won 28 of its last 29 games overall, getting back on

the winning track at New Orleans on Friday, two days after Chicago

snapped a 27-game Heat winning streak. But San Antonio has won 28

of its last 30 games at home, and facing the Spurs on the road is

traditionally a painful expedition for many members of the Heat –

as it tends to be for everyone else in the NBA.

Dwyane Wade is 1-4 at San Antonio, sitting out three other Heat

losses there during his career. Chris Bosh is 1-7. James is 3-7.

Shane Battier – a longtime player in the Western Conference – has

enjoyed eight wins from the visitors’ side when facing the Spurs,

and also been on the losing end 16 times there.

”It’s obviously a very, very, very good team,” Wade said.

”Very tough place to play, so I think our mentality and how we

approach the game is going to be important. You just try to go out

there and compete, as we do every night, try to get a great road

win. It’s not going to be easy but that’s kind of what we

enjoy.”

The only other meeting between the clubs this season was Nov. 29

in Miami, a strange game in that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich –

citing a desire to rest his best players at the end of a long road

trip – sent Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green

home before the game.

With guys like Patty Mills, Nando De Colo and Matt Bonner

filling out the starting lineup – they’ve combined to make four

other starts this season – the Spurs almost beat the Heat anyway,

leading by five with 2:13 left before getting outscored 12-2 in a

wild Miami finish that gave the Heat a 105-100 win.

Ginobili played just under three minutes in Friday night’s win

over the Los Angeles Clippers because of a strained right

hamstring, and Popovich glumly said afterward he didn’t expect him

to be ready to face the Heat.

And on Saturday the Spurs made it official: Ginobili is out for

the game, with no return date set.

The Spurs have won six of their last seven games. Of those six

wins, only one came by double figures, an 11-point victory over

Golden State. The average margin of the other five wins in that

span, over Dallas, Cleveland, Utah, Denver and Clippers was 3.4

points, and the only loss was a one-pointer at Houston.

”It’s great challenges, good preparation for us for the

playoffs,” Parker said. ”Denver is a great team, Clippers a great

team and now we’ve got Miami. They’re the best in the league. They

went on the unbelievable run and it’s going to be another great

game.”

This game could have been one of the most-watched among

regular-season games in years if Miami had not lost in Chicago on

Wednesday. Had the Heat won there and won in New Orleans, as they

did on Friday, they would have been going for their 30th straight

win on this trip to San Antonio in what will be touted either way

as a potential NBA Finals preview.

”I just want you to know the Heat are going to be just fine,”

said President Barack Obama, a noted Bulls fan during a stop in

Miami on Friday. ”They’re going to be OK. They are playing

basketball the right way.”

The Heat streak is gone, but standings-wise, it’s still a big

deal.

”Very good team, obviously the defending champs,” Duncan said.

”I think they won 62 in a row or something like that. It’ll be a

great game. I know our crowd will be excited and we’ll be excited

to continue our homestand.”

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has said everyone on his roster should

be considered day-to-day for the remainder of the regular season.

This is when teams like to ensure that players get some rest

wherever they can.

And the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference is already

clinched, meaning all that’s really left on the Heat to-do list

before the opening round of the playoffs is finish atop the NBA’s

regular-season standings.

”The mindset will be, first and foremost, playing our game and

making sure that we establish our identity,” Spoelstra said.

”That’s the whole thing with us. When we do that and play the way

we’re capable, results take care of themselves.

”We don’t want to get caught up in too much of the results. We

have a big goal in mind. That’s the No. 1 goal and that’s the only

goal we’ve talked about.”