San Antonio Spurs vs. Miami HeatAmerican Airlines Arena, Miami, FL
January 26, 2013, 12:00 PM Spurs Time
TV: ABC - RADIO: 1200 AM WOAI
A short-handed Spurs team took out the Atlanta Hawks on Friday, but Sunday offers a different type of road test. For the first time since Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals, the San Antonio Spurs will take the court against the Miami Heat. Spurs fans do not need a reminder of last year's Finals, but there will be plenty of those with ESPN broadcasting. Perhaps a win over a quality opponent (something that San Antonio has struggled to accomplish this season) could make it a bit less traumatic.
Sunday's game will arrive with a lot of flashbacks to Game 6 and the second-straight championship by the Heat. There will be talk of revenge and getting over the mental hurdle of losing in such a painful fashion, but the truth is that none of that matters for either of these teams right now. If there is a rematch for the championship, then the narrative will be warranted, but if there is any other team in the NBA that can match the Spurs' cruise-control approach to the regular season it is this year's version of the Heat. Like the Spurs, Miami has climbed the mountain a few times now and the Heat seem content with Indiana taking the early lead in the East.
Each team has health concerns on aging rosters that prioritize being at full-strength for the playoffs at the expense of the occasional regular season game. But no other top team in the NBA is without three starters like San Antonio, who will play without Tiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. The Big-3 of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are still producing at a high level, but San Antonio's defense has struggled to maintain it's top 5 spot in spite of the injuries. The Spurs did not rotate very well in the loss to the Thunder, and they didn't do much better against Atlanta, although they held the Hawks to under 40% shooting. Even if Miami is again without Dwayne Wade, sound defensive rotations are the only way to hope to slow down the Miami Heat offense and LeBron James.
The two-time reigning Finals MVP may be having his most underrated season yet, flying under the radar as Kevin Durant assaults box scores throughout the NBA. There's been talk about how LeBron's numbers are "down" yet he is still leading the Heat with 26.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game. But the best part of LeBron's game right now is his efficiency, as he's shooting 58 percent from the field and taking just 16.5 shots a game to get over 26 points. We just assume LeBron will be great on a near nightly basis and that may be the biggest compliment in the league.
With Wade nursing injury, Chris Bosh has provided Miami with someone to take some of the offensive pressure off of LeBron. Bosh is averaging 16.7 points and 6.7 rebounds on the season, but that has improved over the past few weeks as he has become the second option for the Heat. In Thursday's victory over the Lakers, Bosh poured in 31 points. LeBron is always a threat to post up, but other than that, Bosh is the lone frontcourt player that should scare San Antonio defensively.
The rest of Miami's points come from the perimeter players like Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole and Ray Allen, and new addition Michael Beasley has become a solid role player for the Heat. Shane Battier is the crafty veteran that can defend and knock down shots. Rashard Lewis stretches the floor by dragging bigger defenders away from the basket, and Chris Anderson is the Birdman ... that pretty much explains itself.
The Spurs come to Miami with two of their five starters the Heat are likely without Dwayne Wade, its second best player. This is a national game on the first Sunday without football, so the hype is assured, but neither team is pushing it. Each has its own issues that don't won't be addressed in this game. The players know what is at stake: one more regular season win. Nothing more, nothing less. It does have a chance to be a very entertaining game, however, and one that could present some of the role players from San Antonio a chance to emerge.
Matchup to watch: Once Kawhi Leonard went down against OKC, the Spurs struggled to match up with Kevin Durant. The Spurs will have the same issues against LeBron James without Leonard and Danny Green. It means that the Spurs will have to pick between giving up size or athleticism against James and it is likely that Popovich will try a little bit of everything against LeBron early to see what will benefit the Spurs the most. The truth is that stopping LeBron will be a team effort and it will be important for the Spurs to work together better than they did when Kevin Durant and Reggie Jackson carved up the lane last Wednesday.
Heat perspective can be found here: Hot Hot Hoops
Game Prediction: Heat by 5.
Line in Vegas: Heat by 4.
As always Tony must dominate Fisher, and NBA league pass is recommended for those who are willing to pony up the cash. Almost every Spurs game will be broadcast there, which is especially helpful for those of us who aren't in the San Antonio area. Please don't post links to illegal game feeds in the game thread. Links to illegal feeds are not permitted on SBNation, but you can probably find them out there on the internets if you're resourceful and desperate.
Get your San Antonio Spurs tickets from Daniel Farias with Spurs Sports & Entertainment:
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