Updated: April 1, 2013, 12:46 AM ET

1.Without Stars, Heat Demonstrate Bright Stuff

By Tom Haberstroh | ESPN.com

SAN ANTONIO -- It wasn't quite the star-studded affair that many anticipated on Sunday between the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat. But Spurs coach Gregg Popovich's pregame performance may have been just as entertaining.

Standing in front of a crowd of reporters outside the Spurs' locker room, Popovich was asked for his thoughts on Heat coach Erik Spoelstra's decision to sit LeBron James and Dwyane Wade for Sunday's nationally televised game.

Chris Bosh
AP Photo/Darren Abate

What ensued was pure Popovich; the 64-year old future Hall-of-Fame coach staggered backwards in pretend astonishment, hands flailing in the air and mouth fully agape.

"What kind of s--- is that?," Popovich shouted with feigned indignation. "Are you kidding me? What a bunch of rummies. Who would think of something like that?"

The joke wasn't lost on anybody in the hallway as Popovich continued his fake rant while the surrounding reporters bellowed with laughter.

"That's below the belt," Popovich added. "There's no place for that."

As it turned out, it was Spoelstra and the Heat who would get the last laugh.

Even without James, Wade and Mario Chalmers, who sat out with a sore right ankle, the depleted Heat beat the Spurs 88-86 on their home floor, thanks to a go-ahead 3-pointer from a most unlikely source, Chris Bosh, with 1.1 seconds left. After the final buzzer, the Heat celebrated on the court like it was a Game 7. James and Wade emerged from the locker room to tackle fellow teammates as they left the court.

The Heat weren't supposed to win this game. Not with a starting lineup of Norris Cole, Mike Miller, Rashard Lewis, Udonis Haslem and Bosh opposite the Spurs' Hall-of-Fame duo of Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. It must be said that the Spurs weren't fully loaded either as Manu Ginobili sat out Sunday's game with a strained right hamstring.

But the Heat prevailed, and in doing so, they've taken one step closer to earning home-court advantage throughout the playoffs with the No. 1 overall seed over the Spurs, who now sit three games back in the standings.

"You could hear the collective groan in the arena, 'Oh, we've got to watch these clowns for 48 minutes?'" Shane Battier said after the game. "Well, you know what? These clowns have a lot of fight in them."

With the victory, the Heat are now a staggering 29-1 in their past 30 games, and the drama never seems to cease with this team. One might think they'd like to lie low for a while and enjoy some time away from the national spotlight after the Chicago Bulls snapped their historic 27-game win streak on Wednesday. Think again.

By holding out James and Wade for Sunday's much-anticipated game against the San Antonio Spurs, the Heat made sure they still have our attention -- the Spurs' organization included.

Let's be clear: The Heat will never admit to taking a retaliatory shot at the Spurs by sitting James and Wade, but the message was sent anyway. The Heat organization wasn't exactly thrilled that the Spurs sent their trio of stars Duncan, Parker and Ginobili, as well as Danny Green, home on a commercial flight before their Nov. 29 game. Fans in Miami paid good money to see a star-studded battle between the two powerhouses, but the Spurs had other plans. And the decision cost the Spurs $250,000 for the no-show.

Was Sunday a counterpunch from Spoelstra and the Heat?

"I could see how you guys can draw that conclusion," Spoelstra said before the game. "But no."

You could make the argument that the short-handed Heat's game ball should go to Bosh, whose 3-point clincher gave him a game-high 23 points. It could go to Cole, who held Tony Parker to just 12 points, not to mention nailed two clutch free throws in the final minute after a dubious foul call. Cole's 43 minutes were the most of his NBA career and likely beyond.

But most of all, this was a statement game from Spoelstra. As the calendar flips to April, the 42-year-old coach continues to add to an already formidable résumé for Coach of the Year -- an award currently held by none other than Popovich. You don't have to point out the stunning attrition rate of Coach of the Year honors; Spoelstra fully understands that four of the past seven award winners were given pink slips within two years of winning it.

After Sunday's upset, it's becoming harder and harder to argue that Spoelstra's record is merely a product of Miami's star power. Not with three of his starters sitting out and still pulling out the win against the West's top team. You could see Spoelstra's fingerprints all over the Heat's win. His defensive system bottled up an offense that ranks in the top five in the league, but his biggest call was a no-call.

When Popovich called a full timeout with 32 seconds left with the Spurs ahead by one point and with possession, it gave Spoelstra an opportunity to lay out his game plan for the rest of the game. Spoelstra, who once helped build Pat Riley and former Heat coach Stan Van Gundy an advanced stats database, has seen the numbers: taking timeouts in late-game situations hurts a team's ability to score. Spoelstra had two timeouts to burn, but he told the team to save them.

"We talked about it during the (Spurs') timeout," Spoelstra said. "If we forced a miss, we'd go for it."

Sure enough, Duncan ended up missing his ensuing shot and Ray Allen found Bosh for the go-ahead trey after reaching a dead end in the left corner.

"It was probably a better look than anything we could've diagrammed," Spoelstra said.

Battier, whom Spoelstra entrusted to call a timeout if things went awry on that final trip down the floor, beamed when asked about Spoelstra's big no-call.

"I loved it," Battier said. "I was just telling Haslem this: End of game situation, you're down and needing a bucket, do not let the defense set. You go and attack. Calling timeout would allow the Spurs to sub and get their defensive squad in. And we had a much better chance of scoring. All coaches want to show that they know their stuff and can win games with drawing up a play at the end of games. But it takes a lot for coaches to take their imprint off the situation like that."

Now with only one loss since Feb. 1, the Heat will head into Tuesday's game against the hot New York Knicks to wrap up one of the greatest two-month stretches in NBA history, hoping to extend an 11 ½ game lead in the East. And if Spoelstra leads the Heat to the Finals again, he'll carry an undefeated 6-0 record against the West's top-three seeds this season.

"There's no question," Spoelstra said after beating the Spurs, "it's a gratifying win."

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