MIAMI – Manu Ginobili darn near got his wish for the Miami Heat in what turned out to be a rigorous Eastern Conference finals.
“Let them play five overtimes in Game 7,” Ginobili had said after his San Antonio team had dispatched the Memphis Grizzlies in four games on the West side of the NBA’s postseason bracket. That series ended on May 27, by which time the Heat and the Pacers had played only three games.
While everything else that transpired in that seven-game series ground on, the Spurs waited. And worked out. And watched, scouting two teams for the day they’d eventually become one. And then the Spurs waited some more.
Despite Ginobili rooting for a tuckered-out Finals foe, several Spurs players wondered privately if too much time off from competition would dull their edge. Since the end of the regular season, San Antonio has played 14 games in 49 days. It had a seven-day layoff between the first round and its West semifinals against Golden State, a gap of just two days before facing Memphis, a lull of three days within that series and most recently nine days without games while waiting for the Heat.
Video highlights of San Antonio’s 2013 postseason highlights already are looking a little grainy and yellow. The Spurs’ haircuts-to-games-played ratio never has been higher.
While some would say this is precisely what a team built around elderly gentlemen might need, the other end of that “rest” scale is tagged “rust.” If San Antonio comes out sluggish and has trouble finding its legs in Game 1 Thursday night at AmericanAirlines Arena, the topic will come up again.
“It’s not really good, obviously,” Spurs guard Tony Parker said. “It’s a little bit too long. Everybody is healthy. That’s the main thing. You want to go through practices, you want to go hard, but you want nobody to get hurt. I think we did the best we can.”
Both the Spurs and the Heat saw a little of the downside of too much layoff in the early rounds. Against Golden State, on its home court, San Antonio needed two overtimes to win the opener and then dropped Game 2. Miami had a full week to kill after its sweep of Milwaukee in the first round, then got slapped at home by an undermanned Bulls team in the semifinal opener.
Veteran Miami guard Ray Allen talked about the fresh-slate feeling that comes with reaching The Finals, the adrenaline of which might make up for whatever grueling runway a participating team had to get here. And LeBron James – whether answering honestly, accepting the reality that he can’t change the calendar anyway or believing in the power of positive thinking – left no doubt that he’s fine the way the East finals schedule played out.
“I’m ready to play now,” he said. “I would rather have the two days [off rather than nine].”