MIAMI (AP) — While a lot has changed for the Miami Heat since losing Game 5 of the 2014 NBA Finals, the San Antonio Spurs have started to play more like the club that dethroned them now that they’re at full strength.
In their first matchup since battling for the Larry O’Brien Trophy, the Spurs will try for their 11th win in 13 home games Friday night against a Miami team that’s scuffling without All-Star Dwyane Wade.
San Antonio (31-18) stunned many with the ease in which it dispatched LeBron James and the Heat in last season’s finals with four blowout victories en route to its fifth title in 16 years.
Things haven’t gone as smoothly for the Spurs this season as they’ve had to deal with several key injuries and suffered through some uncharacteristically poor play. They’ve lost 114 games to injury as well as seven games for rest, and a 4-9 stretch in December raised the question of whether they could return to title form.
Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard were sidelined at times in that span, but the Spurs have since turned it around by winning eight of 10 while the trio has worked its way back. The three have played in the last nine contests and totaled 59 points in Wednesday’s 110-103 home win over Orlando.
Duncan led the way with 26 and 10 rebounds as San Antonio shot 52.4 percent and made 14 of 32 from 3-point range. He totaled 46 points against Miami in the two regular-season meetings of 2013-14, when each team won on its home floor.
“(Miami) is not the same team. Obviously, you still have (Chris) Bosh and the same coach,” Parker said. “I don’t know if Wade will play, but it’s very, very different from last year. So I think we’ll just worry about ourselves and try to get another win.”
Marco Belinelli also returned from an 18-game absence Wednesday, giving the Spurs an entirely healthy roster for the first time.
‘”(Duncan) doesn’t do anything flashy, that’s for sure, but he’s always around to get a big bucket or a big rebound,” Popovich said. “And it was nice to have Marco back.”
San Antonio is looking to close out its homestand with a 5-1 record before heading out on a season-high nine-game trip. The Spurs ended a five-game regular-season losing streak to the Heat with a 111-87 victory March 6.
Miami (21-28) hasn’t performed at nearly the same level this season after James bolted to Cleveland and Wade, Bosh and Luol Deng have missed time due to injury. Wade will be sidelined for a fifth straight game due to a hamstring injury.
“Between that and working together as a team, it’s just really been difficult with all the injuries and everything,” Bosh said. “But you know, we’re still searching, you know?”
Miami’s Hassan Whiteside has averaged 17.4 points and 15.8 rebounds in his last five games, but the Heat have dropped four of those after blowing a 10-point fourth-quarter lead in Wednesday’s 102-101 loss at Minnesota.
Whiteside finished with a career-high 24 points and 20 boards after making his first 11 field-goal attempts, but Bosh scored 14 on 5-of-14 shooting after he had 34 in Tuesday’s 108-91 loss at Detroit.
Miami has averaged a league-low 88.3 points since Jan. 1, while San Antonio has limited opponents to 93.3 in its last eight.
(© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)