MIAMI – The mind games already have started.
The NBA Finals do not begin until Thursday, but it seems as if the Miami Heat is trying to soften up the revenge-hardened San Antonio Spurs.
The Spurs have had a more difficult road to the Finals, Chris Bosh emphasized Monday at the Heat’s first practice since winning the Eastern Conference final series in six games over Indiana.
The 2013 Finals could have gone either way, other players said.
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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is a “great coach,” but Miami’s Erik Spoelstra is simply “a great up-and-coming coach,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade pointed out.
In other words, there might not be much bulletin-board material from Miami for this rematch of last year’s seven-game series. The Spurs already have the home-court advantage, and the bitter taste of defeat to fuel their motivation.
San Antonio standout Tim Duncan made that clear shortly after the Western Conference finals when he said, “We’ve got four more to win. We’ll do it this time.”
For someone as understated as Duncan, that was a revelation into how badly the Spurs are still hurting from last year’s collapse in the Finals.
“They don’t like us, they don’t,” Heat forward LeBron James said of the Spurs. “I can sense it from Timmy’s comments over the last couple of days. They wanted this, they wanted us and we’ll be ready for the challenge.”
That bit of pre-series promotion might play well for the TV cameras and Internet headlines, but the truth of this series is that raw emotion will have little to do with its outcome. The Eastern Conference finals might have been about trash talk and cheap shots, but this next chapter of the Heat and Spurs is expected to be about respect, preparation, adjustments and, more specifically, simply making shots.
At least, that is the Heat’s hope.
“This is the one I’m sure everybody is happy for,” Bosh said. “I know they’ve been eager to get back, and we’ve had that same feeling.”
Ray Allen’s magical three-pointer in Game 6 saved the Heat in last year’s Finals, but in the end the series came down to James being more patient against San Antonio’s defense.
In Games 1 through 3, James shot 38.9 percent from the field, 23.1 percent from three-point range and averaged 16.7 points.
In the final four games, James was much better offensively. He shot 47.9 percent from the field, 42.9 percent from three-point range and averaged 31.8 points per game.
What did the Spurs do defensively to limit James so thoroughly in the beginning?
“They actually didn’t focus on me last year,” James said. “They didn’t guard me. I didn’t make shots … It wasn’t much of a game plan; they didn’t guard me.”
• A woman who said she worked for Donald Sterling filed a lawsuit alleging the embattled Los Angeles Clippers owner fired her after she refused to have sex with him and repeatedly made racist and sexist remarks in her presence.
Maiko Maya King said she was subjected to a “steady stream of racially and sexually offensive comments” by Sterling and that she was in a “romantic relationship” with him from 2005 until 2011, according to the lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Attorney Bobby Samini, who is representing Sterling, said in an email the allegations are “completely baseless.”
Meanwhile, the woman Sterling was talking to when he made the recorded racist remarks that led to his banishment from the league said she was assaulted by two men outside a New York City hotel Sunday night. V. Stiviano told police she was punched in the side of the face.
• Phil Jackson, first-year New York Knicks president, was fined $25,000 by the league for a tampering violation involving Oklahoma City guard Derek Fisher.
Jackson told reporters last week Fisher is “on my list of guys that could be very good candidates” to coach the Knicks next season.