The San Antonio Spurs have had as much success over the course of the past 15 years as any team in the NBA.
With four NBA championships since 1999, the Spurs are the Lakers — minus all the flash and drama.
The Heat has been wise in trying to emulate the Spurs, in a few spots, anyway.
San Antonio makes its lone visit of the regular season to AmericanAirlines Arena on Thursday night.
“They have a game that withstands the test of time,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They really are timeless. They’ve played together so long, they are seamless. They do a great job of moving the ball, play to their strengths. … Their pace may have changed; they are fast. They spread the floor, move you around.”
Consider this: San Antonio has not only won four championships (one behind the Lakers since 1999) but also has played in the Western Conference finals three times since 2001.
Since coach Gregg Popovich’s first full season in 1997-98, the Spurs have hit the 50-win mark all but once. And that came in the 1998-99 strike-shortened season in which San Antonio went 37-13 and won it all.
The Spurs have done all this with mostly a core group, one that includes Popovich. In San Antonio’s first title run, it was Tim Duncan and David Robinson leading the way.
Since then, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have been integral parts of the past three championships as Robinson was on the back end of his career. The Spurs have been very good about surrounding Duncan, Parker and Ginobili with talent — a formula the Heat seems to be following as well.
Winning game plan
Miami, like San Antonio, has asked some players — such as Ray Allen — to change their role on the team for team-wide success.
“We have asked some guys to check their egos, but the Spurs have been doing it for decades,” Spoelstra said. “It is the blueprint. Just not many players are willing to do it. Manu Ginobili is a Hall of Famer and we all know he should have been a starter his entire career but was willing to come off the bench.”
Miami just hopes it gets the results the Spurs have over the years. The Heat is one of three NBA franchises to win multiple NBA titles since 1999 (the Lakers and Spurs are the others) and did so with mostly different players.
Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem are the only Miami players to win championships in both 2006 and 2012.
“Their family is their family and they take care of that. We’re doing the same thing here,” said LeBron James, whose Cleveland Cavaliers were swept in the 2007 NBA Finals by the Spurs.
“Both franchises are championship franchises. We’re both working toward being championship franchises both on and off the floor each year. That’s definitely great to be a part of.”
San Antonio hasn’t slowed from last year’s success as the Spurs were considered to be playing the best basketball of anyone. That, of course, was before the Spurs lost four in a row to Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals.
Last year’s Spurs rolled through the opening two rounds of the postseason, sweeping the Jazz and Clippers.
In the conference finals, the Spurs took a 2-0 lead on the Thunder to set an NBA record for consecutive playoff games won. Then the upstarts from Oklahoma went on to win the next four and advance to the play the Heat in the NBA Finals.
“They easily could have gone on. What that did was really catch our attention at how explosive Oklahoma City was,” Spoelstra said. “They turned it to a different gear and the whole series changed. San Antonio didn’t do a whole lot of things wrong, played some very good basketball. They just ran into a hotter team.”
This year’s Spurs have jumped out of the gate strong, and are 13-3 after beating Orlando on Wednesday night. San Antonio is the only team in the NBA with 13 wins.
“They’ve done a great job on the road and that dates back to last year,” Spoelstra said.
Playing the Spurs is most definitely a boost for a Miami team that hasn’t hosted many elite teams since Boston was in town for the season opener.
Miami, now 10-3, is 4-3 against playoff teams from last season.
“They are one of the best teams in the league every year, and there’s a reason for that,” said Chris Bosh, who will likely be assigned the task of taking on Duncan for much of Thursday’s game.
“It’s a measuring stick. You win the games you’re supposed to. Then it’s up against the juggernauts. It’s always a good time to establish yourself and see where you are at. Guys don’t forget later on in the postseason.”
This and that
“He’s day-to-day,” Spoelstra said.