Heat Could Let Up Now, But Spurs Showdown Still Has Some Meaning
The 1972 Miami Dolphins are the only NFL team to finish a season unbeaten (including playoffs). Thus members of that group reportedly crack open some champagne to celebrate whenever a team that has made an unbeaten push loses its first game. Those players want the record to themselves.
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Following the Miami Heat's 101-97 loss at Chicago on Wednesday, perhaps a few of the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers will get together and propose a toast. The Bulls ended the Heat's 27-game winning streak six shy of tying the Lakers' record. In the process, it somewhat ruined the mega-hype of Sunday's Miami game at Western Conference-leading San Antonio.
The Bulls, who were playing without Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose, may have exposed the few minor cracks in the Heat. Miami had won their past 36 games when hitting at least 10 three-pointers, but the Bulls challenged the Heat's long-range shooters all night and held Miami to 7-for-20 from long range and just 1-for-8 in the fourth. The Heat are not a good rebounding team, and the Bulls took advantage. They had 12 more rebounds than the Heat and outscored Miami 22-8 in second-chance points.
It's probably wise not to read too much into Wednesday's game either. For the Bulls, it was their Super Bowl. The Heat also had been playing with fire in recent games by falling behind by double digits only to flip a switch in the second half. They had beaten 11-straight teams with winning records in the streak and won 13 straight on the road. The Heat are still 5/6 huge Bovada favorites to win the NBA title and 1/4 to win the East.
The loss could be a good thing. Miami has wrapped up the top seed in the Eastern Conference, so there is little to play for in the season's final few weeks. Thus Coach Erik Spoelstra can find games to rest LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. It wouldn't be a shock to see the Heat go into a mini-slump, and Friday's game at New Orleans is the textbook definition of a "letdown" game.
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As for Sunday's game at the Spurs, it still has some ancillary meaning. Currently, Miami leads the Spurs by two games for the top overall record and potential home-court advantage in the NBA Finals. A Miami win would clinch the season series against the Spurs and a potential head-to-head tiebreaker for home court in the Finals (Miami already swept the Thunder). Following the San Antonio game, Miami could go into semi-shutdown mode until the playoffs.
It's still not clear how the Heat and Spurs truly match up as they haven't both played at full strength against one another since LeBron's first year with Miami. That season, San Antonio won by 30 at home against Miami, while the Heat returned the favor with a 30-point blowout in south Florida. The clubs met once last year due to the lockout, a 120-98 Heat home victory in which Miami outscored San Antonio 71-35 after halftime. Neither Wade nor the Spurs' Manu Ginobili played.
The teams met this season back on November 29, which Miami won 105-100 at home. That was hardly the story. San Antonio had won big in Orlando the night before and the visit to Miami concluded a draining six-game road trip. So Coach Gregg Popovich, as he is known to do, didn't bring a healthy Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Ginobili or Danny Green on the trip. Yet San Antonio's JV led much of the game before the Heat's Ray Allen hit the go-ahead three-pointer with 22.6 seconds left.
NBA commissioner David Stern was infuriated that Popovich thumbed his nose at a competitive game that was shown on national TV. Stern fined the franchise $250,000, saying the team "did a disservice to the league and our fans." Resting players near the end of the season has never drawn the commissioner's ire, but that was clearly different. Popovich certainly will have his stars on the court Sunday. San Antonio is trying to hold off Oklahoma City for the West's top seed.
Weekend Live Betting
It's a light NBA live play-by-play schedule with the NCAA Tournament entering its second weekend.On Saturday, the book offers Magic at Hawks and Lakers at Kings. It's the final game of a crucial four-game road trip for L.A. and could be their final-ever visit to Sacramento. The city is trying to match a Seattle group's bid for the Kings by agreeing to build a new arena. It may be too late. NBA owners will eventually decide whether the team plays in California's capital city or moves to Seattle next season.
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