By Rob Mahoney
SAN ANTONIO -- Sunday's matchup between the Spurs and Heat has been circled on the calendar as both a cross-conference battle of giants and a one-time obstacle to Miami's now-halted winning streak. But the game will likely bear little resemblance to the the affair suggested by its considerable hype.
Before tip-off, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra confirmed that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers -- three of Miami's top four players in minutes per game -- will all sit out with minor injuries and have been declared as "day-to-day."
It doesn't take much work to connect the dots between those absences and San Antonio's group vacation from a game against Miami in November, when Gregg Popovich opted to send Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green home rather than play them in a nationally televised game. Popovich was fined $250,000 by the NBA as a result of the decision, though that punishment could be related to Pop's unabashed gamesmanship as much as the decision itself. When asked about the Heat's lineup-clearing decision, Popovich -- ever the press-scrum showman -- responded with mock incredulity.
"What kind of s--- is that?" Popovich said. "Are you kidding me? What a bunch of rummies! They're doing that? Who would think of something like that? That's below the belt. There's no place for that."
Spoelstra, for his part, has a fair bit more plausible deniability than Popovich did; James did suffer a right hamstring injury against the Hornets on Friday, while Wade and Chalmers are nursing ankle injuries. Even if all three players were theoretically able to compete in a game of higher stakes, it seems unlikely that Spoelstra will be tagged with so hefty a fine, if one is incurred at all. As further help to his case, Spoelstra also rebuffed the notion that his decision was a direct response to Popovich's lineup chess move earlier in the season.
"I could see how you guys can draw that conclusion, but no," Spoelstra said.