Believe it or not, the Heat says it was ready for Popovich to go Popovich.
On Thursday morning, coach Erik Spoelstra, his assistants and Heat players discussed the possibility of the Spurs resting some of their veteran players for Thursday’s game. Turns out, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich didn’t just rest his veteran players, the Spurs’ top six leading scorers weren’t even in the state of Florida when the game tipped off at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Tony Parker didn’t travel with the team from Orlando to Miami on Thursday morning. Stephen Jackson and Kawhi Leonard have been out with injures. San Antonio entered the game 9-1 in away games this season and 5-0 on its current six-game trip.
While Thursday was the Spurs’ fourth road game in five nights, it was the Heat’s first game in five days and second game since Nov. 21.
“Regardless, this is an opportunity for us to get back out on the court together and get better and improve, so we’re going to take this seriously,” Spoelstra said.
It was all a joke to Popovich, of course. Why else would he approach the larger-than-normal pregame media scrum cracking them?
“I had no idea,” Popovich said. “One good month and you’re in The Finals.”
It wasn’t a joke, however, to NBA commissioner David Stern, who issued a statement shown on the TNT telecast saying, “I apologize to all NBA fans. This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming.’’
Despite the game being nationally televised and despite it being a matchup between the teams with the best records in the Western and Eastern conferences, Popovich thumbed his nose at the storylines and instead called his decision to show up in Miami with half a team “logical.”
“It wouldn’t matter if we were on TV or who we were playing tonight,” Popovich said. “We wouldn’t have played those guys.”
Of course, it was on TV and the NBA is in the business of entertaining people. “It’s not good for business,” Heat forward Mike Miller said.
• Ray Allen played despite a sore back. His availability was a game-time decision after experiencing a “tightening” in his back on Thursday morning, Spoelstra said.
• Rashard Lewis started in place of Shane Battier (sprained the medial collateral ligament in his right knee).