By Raul Dominguez
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
SAN ANTONIO _ Facing Miami had the San Antonio Spurs playing like champions again. It left the Heat feeling awestruck once more.
Kawhi Leonard had 24 points and San Antonio beat Miami 98-85 on Friday night in their first meeting since the Spurs’ dominating performance in the NBA Finals.
San Antonio, which has battled injuries all season, showed some of the crisp ball movement and consistency that dumbfounded Miami in June.
“It was a lot more consistent than we have been for more of the 48 minutes, in both competitiveness and execution,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who is one win shy of 1,000 for his career.
San Antonio had 31 assists and was 11 for 29 on 3-pointers in running Miami off the floor in a rematch of the past two Finals.
“That’s elite-level ball-handling, ball movement, passing and IQ and shooting,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And great coaching. It’s the full package.”
Tony Parker added 21 points and Tim Duncan had 10 and 12 rebounds for his 24th double-double of the season.
The Spurs played with their entire roster active for only the second time this season.
“This year has just been hard for this year for all those reasons, for all the injuries, but every team has got injuries so we’re not trying to find excuses,” Parker said.
Minus the injuries, the Spurs roster is mostly intact since its five-game victory over the Heat in the Finals, while Miami’s has been drastically altered. They lost LeBron James to Cleveland and were without an injured Dwyane Wade once again Friday.
Taylor Johnson, who is on his second 10-day contract, had a team-high 18 points for Miami. Luol Deng had 17 and Chris Bosh added 14 points for the Heat, who trailed by as many as 20 points in a game that wasn’t as close as the score.
“I mean they’re making the right play like every single, well like 90 per cent of the time,” Bosh said. “They’re getting wide open jump shots, they’re being aggressive and you just don’t know what they’re going to do.”
The Spurs also had Leonard, the Finals MVP.
Leonard stripped Deng near midcourt and raced downcourt for a one-handed dunk with 5 minutes left in the first quarter to tie the game at 13. He later added consecutive 3-pointers as part of a 17-4 run that gave San Antonio a 30-19 lead.
“He guards his man well and he just has a knack to get into passing lanes and get his hands on balls,” Popovich said.
The Spurs finished with 12 steals, including three by Leonard.
“The turnovers led to some pick-sixes, it got them going,” Spoelstra said. “They got some easy looks from that and had a big offensive quarter, 30 in the first and we were never able to get back into the game.”
Heat: F Udonis Haslem left the game in the first quarter after injuring his left wrist. Initial X-rays were negative, but he will be reevaluated. … C Chris Andersen was assessed a technical foul with 5:24 left in the third quarter, but after officials conferred, the call was altered to a double technical on him and Spurs C Aron Baynes. … Coach Erik Spoelstra was assessed a technical foul with 6:23 remaining after arguing a non-call. … C Hassan Whiteside did not play after aggravating a sprained right ankle in the first quarter Wednesday against Minnesota.
Spurs: Closed their homestand 5-1 and now embark on their annual “Rodeo Road Trip,” which consists of nine straight road games over a three-week period. The Spurs will have travelled 8,084 miles during the trip that runs from Feb. 8 to Feb. 28. … San Antonio has had at least five players score in double figures in 34 games, which is one game fewer than Chicago for most in the league this season.
Parker was surprised to learn Popovich is one win shy of 1,000 career victories.
“One more? Ok, so, the next one is going to be a big one. Thanks for telling me,” he said.
The French point guard was asked if he would get his longtime coach a present to commemorate the occasion.
“A present,” Parker asked. “Yeah, we’re going to try to win a game.”
Heat: Host New York Knicks on Monday.
Spurs: Visit Toronto on Sunday.