MIAMI — It truly is a case in which you can throw out the previous games between the teams.
The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs will meet in the NBA Finals, but don't expect the series to resemble their two games during the regular season. In fact, Thursday's series opener is the first time both teams will play one another at full strength.
"It's crazy that it worked out this way, that we are both in the Finals," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said.
What's even crazier is how their regular-season series played out. The teams were supposed to meet in a star-studded, nationally televised game in late November. That changed when Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich decided "rest" was more important than an early-season win.
With the team having played in Orlando the previous night, he sent home All-Stars Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. The Heat was left to play a makeshift version of the Spurs. The rematch in San Antonio was no different, with Miami Coach Erik Spoelstra sitting Wade and LeBron James because of nagging "injuries."
The Heat will surely see the Spurs' top players, especially with their having had plenty of rest before the Finals. San Antonio last played May 27, the day it eliminated the Memphis Grizzlies in four games.
"I'll start to get back into the books and get back into the film on a team that's very good, very disciplined, well-coached," James said. "They've got a bunch of Hall of Famers. So I look forward to the challenge."
The Spurs are going for their fifth title, all in the Duncan-Popovich era. Parker and Ginobili have been part of the last three championship teams, including the one that defeated the James-led Cleveland Cavaliers in 2007.
"It's a huge obstacle," Heat forward Udonis Haslem said. "They have great players, championship-caliber guys, very, very well coached. I think we finished enjoying that win [Monday against the Indiana Pacers, to clinch the Eastern Conference title] 30 minutes after the game was over. Now we move on to the next challenge."
The biggest concern for the Heat is the Spurs' chemistry. Ginobili, Parker and Duncan have been the team's core since 2002. Even though Miami has made strides in the era of the Big Three — James, Wade and Chris Bosh — its familiarity is no comparison.
"Obviously, San Antonio has a system," Wade said. "Obviously, they have certain players that's featured in the system, that have been featured awhile, many years for them. That's not a surprise. But that's a hell of a team over there. We're going to have to make adjustments every game throughout the series."
For the Heat, there's the chance to not only join the ranks of back-to-back champions but also begin the process of achieving what the Spurs have over the years.
"It'll be another tough series, but it's for all the marbles," Heat center Bosh said. "And just to get back to this point is awesome. We're trying to accomplish the ultimate goal again, try to climb the mountaintop again. It's going to be very tough. They're a very resilient bunch. They're one of the best dynasties of all time, and we'll see how we stack up to them."