By Jason Lieser
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
SAN ANTONIO —
LeBron James hates this arena.
And that is one of the reasons he likes it.
The Heat will be back at the AT&T Center on Thursday (8 p.m., TNT and Sun Sports) to face San Antonio for the first time since a miserable week here during last year’s NBA Finals. Their championship hopes were at high risk after dropping Game 5 to fall behind 3-2.
“Going there is always a place of horror,” James said Tuesday. “I haven’t had a lot of success there in my career. But it’s always fun to go against a very well-coached, well-machined organization with so many great players.”
The Heat stormed back by winning Games 6 and 7 at home last year to capture their second consecutive title, but that did not erase the hard memories of what preceded that comeback. Miami lost two out of three here in that series, including 36-point blowout in Game 3 for the third-worst loss in Finals history.
It was a familiar disappointment for James, who lost twice in San Antonio while playing for the Cavaliers in the 2007 Finals. The Spurs swept that series 4-0.
Not much has changed for San Antonio since then. The team still revolves around the veteran trio of Tim Duncan (almost 38 years old), Manu Ginobili (36) and Tony Parker (31), prlcky coach Gregg Popovich remains on the bench and the Spurs — as always, it seems — stand near the top of the Western Conference.
Despite their age, despite that trio missing a combined 27 games and despite rising star Kawhi Leonard sitting 15 games because of injury, San Antonio is 44-16 and trails Oklahoma City by a mere 1.5 games in the race for the No. 1 seed in the West.
“The Spurs are the Spurs and they’re gonna be the Spurs until Manu and Tony and Tim leave — and Pop,” James said recently. “They’ve got four Hall of Famers. Any time you have that stability, that culture is going to be embedded into everybody. It’s in their blood. No matter who’s in the lineup, they’re gonna play San Antonio basketball and that type of basketball is gonna beat 80 percent of the teams in our league. It’s great to see.”
James is 17-14 against the Spurs in his 11-year career and helped Miami beat them 113-101 at AmericanAirlines Arena in late January. However, he is just 5-9 against them in San Antonio.
In addition to conquering the Spurs, the Heat (43-15) are eager to reassert themselves after losing 106-103 to the Rockets on Tuesday. It has been a wild week for Miami, which won at home against Charlotte on Monday thanks to James’ career-high 61 points, then immediately flew to Houston for the second game of a back-to-back and looked fatigued. The short trip to San Antonio and no practice Wednesday gives them a chance to regroup and get their strength back.
“The train goes on,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’ve gotta get some rest. We’re not making any excuses for (Tuesday) and we need to get ready for San Antonio. They’ve dealt with a lot of adversity this year and you look at their record and they’re right there. It’s amazing.” Miami Heat return to San Antonio for first time since NBA Finals | www.palmbeachpost.com