Short-handed Heat take down the Spurs

The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs might play each other this season. Or they might not. At this point, it will require both of them making it to the NBA Finals.

According to the official record, the Spurs and Heat have played each other twice now. If you look in the record books, it will say the Heat beat the Spurs 105-101 on Nov. 29 in Miami, and then beat the Spurs again 88-86 Sunday in San Antonio.

And although this is the official record and it counts for the playoff standings and anywhere else this sort of thing matters, anybody who is really paying attention knows this isn’t what happened at all. This is a mirage. The San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat, as we know them, have not faced each other during the 2012-13 season.

Controversially, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich held four of his five top scorers out of that November game in Miami. People were mad. Some of them fans in Miami who bought tickets under the pretense they would get to see a future Hall of Fame player in Tim Duncan play against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The Spurs got ripped all over for that, and even got fined by the NBA. But they were unapologetic about it – Popovich has never cared much what anybody else thought.

Then on Sunday in San Antonio, the Heat played without LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers. In the official record, they were all injured, but who really knows, eh?

So the NBA regular season is going to end without any kind of a realistic indication as to how a highly plausible NBA Finals matchup between the Spurs and Heat might go.

And yet the Heat won both games, and this seems significant. Miami, which just came off the second-longest winning streak in NBA history, won on the road against the team with the best record in the Western Conference without (1) the best player in the world (2) its second best player and (3) its starting point guard.

How it happened was this: Chris Bosh scored 23 points, including the game-winning 3-pointer with 1.1 seconds left. Norris Cole and Mike Miller combined for 25 points, Ray Allen scored 14 off the Heat bench and the Spurs shot miserably from both the free-throw line (9 for 16) and 3-point line (7 for 24). San Antonio’s leading scorers were Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard, who both scored 17, but on a night the Spurs didn’t have a hero, even though they theoretically shouldn’t have needed one in the first place.

Miami on the other hand made 12 3-pointers and had 23 assists on 33 field goals and that was that.

What emptiness. What meaninglessness. What an existential crisis for the NBA.

Presumably, this is a great predictor of what the Heat will do in the Finals, should they make it that far. They beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Finals last year, and one of the Thunder’s three U.S. Olympians (James Harden) plays for the Houston Rockets now. So the Heat have some idea how they would fare against the second-most-successful team in the Western Conference, plus they just beat the winningest team in the Western Conference without three starters, including James.

Which may be the most psychologically devastating event of the season for San Antonio. The Spurs can write off that loss in November at Miami, but what to make of this? At the risk of beating a dead horse, Miami’s starting lineup Sunday was as follows: Norris Cole, Mike Miller, Rashard Lewis, Udonis Haslem and Chris Bosh.

If the Spurs are bored – and who could blame them if they were, considering they have had the best record in the Western Conference for years, it seems – Sunday was a great example of it. Whether they imagined a Heat lineup without James and Wade would require less than the utmost output or they just aren’t worried whether or not they are the top seed in the West, it’s easy to understand. As it has for most of the season, it appears the Western Conference is coming down to Oklahoma City and San Antonio, regardless of seeding.

But Sunday night wasn’t about the West. Sunday night was about a Finals matchup that might happen, could happen, should happen – and might not make any sense if it does.