Cruising down US-41, I passed the ascending steps leading to American Airlines Arena, the home of the Miami Heat.
The year: 2014.
The occasion: a wedding of a family friend's granddaughter.
The time: shortly after Miami's throttling at the hands of a revenge-famished San Antonio squad in game 5 of the 2014 NBA Finals.
The scene was dead, besides scant workers mounting ladders and operating elevated lifts, unceremoniously stripping Finals banners from their posts.
There was no fanfare; the stadium grounds were absent of any fans exploring or taking pictures in front of the edifice of the building, a common tendency of Miami fans forsaking their team.
Shortly after the Finals defeat, LeBron shocked the world again with his return to Cleveland. Consequently, Miami's following season was marred by a plethora of injuries, missing the postseason for the first time since 2008.
In the sporting world, all dynasties eventually fall - championship cultures fading to the dredges of lottery picks and rebuilding efforts.
Despite this ominous philosophy, the Spurs superpower has yet to crumble.
With a 119-101 over the Miami Heat, the Spurs conquered their previous best start, improving to a franchise record 44-8 with their first victory on a scheduled eight-game rodeo road-trip.
Miami falls to the five spot in the East, winning five of their previous eight games.
Besides the blow-out losses at the hands of Golden State and Cleveland, the Spurs have been embarrassing teams, triumphing in 18 victories by a margin of +20 points - only five of the defeated teams had less than 18 wins. Their current average of +13.4 point differential beats the +12.3 differential mark set by the 1972-1973 Lakers. The league-leading Golden State Warriors currently hold a +12.6 points per game differential.
Miami GM Pat Riley looked on glumly as the Spurs endured the flames of Heat's hot shooting (57.1% to San Antonio's 52.8%), and won the game on second-chance points, outscoring their opponent 22-3. As you'd expect from all their second-chance scoring, San Antonio controlled the boards, nabbing 11 offensive rebounds to Miami's sole grab.
Despite Miami limiting San Antonio to 7-of-27 shooting in the opening period, the Spurs half-court offense clicked in the second quarter, running the ball through LMA who scored 12 of his 16 first half points; he outmaneuvered Hassan Whiteside in the paint.
After 14 points and six rebounds, Whiteside had an impressive offensive showing, but seemed dejected by his inability to stop Aldridge. Unable to maintain his poise, he was ejected with a flagrant two foul in the fourth quarter for arching an elbow into the face of Boban Marjanovic. Whiteside's performance on one side of the floor seemed pretty consistent, but as J.R. Wilco wrote in his preview of the game, you never know what you're going to get with his erratic play. The faux-pas contributed to a seven-point Spurs possession.
The current directions of the two franchises are highlighted by their young stars: Leonard had a brilliant game (discussed below) and has the fans both excited about the season and optimistic for the future, while Whiteside didn't start but played well until he lashed out in anger, was removed from the game and sent home by the team -- with reports that they're not even interested in re-signing him at the end of the season.
LaMarcus Aldridge & Kawhi Leonard
After winning Western Conference Player of the Week, LMA is starting to resemble the efficient stud that Portland so desperately misses (can you imagine how good that squad would be this year with the 5-time All-star in the fold?). Aldridge had 28 points, four rebounds, and four assists; he has scored at least 20 points against Miami for 10 consecutive games. Chris Bosh - showing off remarkable acting chops in Xarelto commercials - was unable to slow Aldridge down, and as mentioned earlier, neither could an overmatched Whiteside.
It would be a crime not to mention Kawhi Leonard's contribution to the victory. The Claw drained 23 points and was a monster off the glass with nine total rebounds. Leonard surpassed the 1,000 point mark this season, and is the first Spur to reach such a feat in 50 games since Tony Parker in 2012-13.
The front-court duo have scored over 20 points in three of their last four games.
Dwayne Wade is now 252 points away from 20,000 points. He scored 20 points on high percentage 9-of-12 shooting and fed five assists. The veteran looked like he was giving maximum effort, sacrificing his body on drives; he tweaked his ankle on a fast break, pulled his back after being denied a dunk, and collided knees with Danny Green on an attempted lay-up.
San Antonio competed without four players, and nearly lost two more during back-to-back scares in the first period. David West landed awkwardly following a block on Bosh, and Tony Parker collided on the opposite end of the floor with a seated camera man. Fortunately, both were able to shake off the pain, and continue playing. On a positive note, Tim Duncan was an active participant in pre-game warm-ups, eager for a return against the Orlando Magic before the All-star break. The activation is unlikely, if Popovich has a say in the veteran's eligibility.
TNT sideline reporter David Aldridge was so desperate to get a response out of Coach Gregg Popovich, he revealed Tuesday's New Hampshire primary results. When Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump were revealed as the victors, Popovich looked at him sadly, slowly shook his head, and walked back to the bench.
By The Numbers
19: The winning point differential. San Antonio has averaged +10 per game win-differential on the road, and +16 per game win-differential away.
32: The number of Shaquille O'Neal with Miami. The Heat announced early Tuesday that they planned to retire the Hall-of-Famer's jersey next season. Shaq has already been retired by the Los Angeles Lakers and will have a statue erected in front of Staples Center in 2017.
18: The number of turnovers by Miami. The Spurs outscored the Heat 29-11 off of T.O.s.
1: Number of ankle-breakers. Goran Dragic performed a vicious crossover, sending Patty reeling towards the right wing while the Miami point guard drained a jumper at the elbow.
6: The count of times that creepy Puppy-Monkey-Baby Mountain Dew Kickstarter commercial came on while I was trying to watch the game. My remote lingered on the television, but somehow wouldn't change the channel. The disgust in my lack off willpower to turn off the advertisement abomination is probably identical to Spoelstra's feelings on Miami's absence of effort in their fourth quarter burn-out.
Social Media Gossip
Classic Pop https://t.co/Mrup9F05Zi— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 10, 2016
Kawhi just hit his 1,000th point this season. First Spur w/ 1K in his 1st 50 games since Tony Parker in 2012-13 pic.twitter.com/OPC104yGa4— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) February 10, 2016