SAN ANTONIO — We can only assume that everybody will eventually show up for a date in June.
In two games this season between the two best teams in the NBA, the list of the missing could make up the core of an All-Star team, if not partially fill a wing in the Hall of Fame.
Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green never even bothered to touch down in Miami back in November, instead boarding a Southwest Airlines flight from Orlando straight to home. For that little stunt by coach Gregg Popovich, the Spurs were reprimanded and fined $250,000 by commissioner David Stern.
At least LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers were in the house at the AT&T Center on Sunday night, but they weren’t in uniform and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was quick to offer up everything from video of the previous game to doctor’s notes to DNA mapping of the infirmed as proof that this was not tit-for-tat.
“I can see where you guys would draw those conclusions, but no,” he told reporters.
So how come the rest of the world can’t help but see this as a tale with more behind-the-crown royal conniving than “Game of Thrones”?
Give the Heat the leg up in the head games with their undermanned 88-86 win that came on Chris Bosh’s 3-pointer with 1.1 seconds left in the game.
“It is very special to us,” Bosh said after ringing up 23 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots. “Just to be able to compete at a high level continuously, no matter who we put out there.”
Even the league office seemed to get in on the big tease by assigning burr-under-the-saddle lead referee Joey Crawford to the game in San Antonio, where he is historically an antagonist rivaled only by Gen. Santa Anna.
There is little the commissioner can do this time except throw up his hands in frustration and, with retirement looming in barely 10 months, know this will then be Adam Silver’s conundrum.
Despite howls of protest coming off the Riverwalk, there will be no fines levied against the Heat, because Chalmers was held out Friday night in New Orleans, it was documented that James required extra stretching at halftime of that game and, of course, the reckless Wade is always one more tumble to the floor from coming apart at the seams.
It is the time of the long regular season when every NBA team is bruised, beaten and battered and those with legitimate hopes of making a deep run to a championship must keep an eye on the overall health and condition of the roster.
“These things happen,” Spoelstra said. “That’s the deal with playing a physical sport and the demands of an 82-game season.”
When informed by reporters before the game that James and Wade were sitting, Popovich, playfully staggered backward in mock shock.
“What kind of (expletive) is that? Are you kidding me? What a bunch of rummies. That’s below the belt. Who would think of something like that? There’s no place for that.”
Yet anyone who can tell a basketball from a kumquat knows that if Miami’s historic streak had still been alive and the Heat came gunning for 30 in a row, everybody would have been on the floor if it had required duct tape and super glue to hold them together instead of leaving even a hint of funny business.
“Oh, I don’t think the commissioner would find any humor at all in that subject,” said Heat forward Shane Battier. “Though I’ll admit there is a bit of irony. But for now, how we match up with our full teams is all stuff to talk and speculate about and play on NBA Live.”
The Spurs reserves had almost pulled off a similar result on Nov. 29 when they pushed the full Miami lineup with James and Wade to the limit before falling 105-100. The Heat backups simply took it one step farther, fueled by an understood lack of appreciation.
“We’ve got gamers in this room,” Battier said. “You’ve got the sigh of the arena, a collective groan, I guess you could say: ‘Oh, we’ve got watch these clowns for 48 minutes?’ But these clowns have a lot of fight in them. The Fighting Clowns.”
The circus leaves town with Miami now three games up in the standings and holding the tiebreaker on San Antonio in the race for the league’s best overall record and home-court advantage all the way through The Finals. The Spurs are still wrestling with the Thunder for the No. 1 seed in the West, currently holding a two-game lead, but facing a prickly gantlet of Memphis, OKC and Denver in their next three road games.
But all those other teams seem secondary to the challenge that the Spurs would pose to the Heat’s designs on repeating as champs. They are big and athletic and move the ball on offense in a way that will always push Miami to its considerable defensive limits.
This was finally going to be the heavyweight prelude to the playoffs, a test, the measuring stick. Instead these are two teams, two entire organizations that continue to look more like Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao circling and making excuses.
“At least with those two guys, all it takes is the right amount of cash,” Battier said. “In this case, a lot of other things have to line up right to make it happen. We know we’ve got a fight on our hands in the East. They’ve got to work their way out of the West. It’s a long way to June.”
When presumably, everyone would finally show up.