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.”