(Eds: With AP Photos.)
By RAUL DOMINGUEZ
SAN ANTONIO (AP) - The San Antonio Spurs spent most of the past week resting, answering the same questions from the media and battering each other during practice.
Mainly, though, the Western Conference champions spent their time off impatiently waiting to find out who they would play in the NBA Finals. San Antonio finally got the answer when the defending champion Miami Heat beat the Indiana Pacers 99-76 on Monday night in Game 7 of the Eastern finals.
Did the Spurs get a chance to watch any of that grueling series?
"No, I watched one of those island shows," coach Gregg Popovich said, shaking his head at the query. "Unbelievable."
The week off certainly didn't dull Popovich's sarcasm, but could it impact the hot streak the Spurs have been on as they attempt to go a perfect 5-for-5 in the NBA Finals?
San Antonio is 12-2 in the playoffs, including series sweeps of the Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies. But the Spurs will have had a nine-day layoff when the Finals open Thursday in Miami, while the Heat will be only two days removed from a physical series as they attempt to win the franchise's third title.
"They are going to be in more of a rhythm than us," point guard Tony Parker said. "But, hopefully, we will be rusty like in the first quarter or first half and we will be better in the second half."
Although the Spurs did some light preparation for both Miami and Indiana, they couldn't focus on either until an hour-long practice Tuesday morning.
San Antonio can't even fall back on its season series against Miami for research since neither team was at full strength in either game. Popovich sent Parker, Tim Duncan, Danny Green and Manu Ginobili home rather than have them travel to Miami on Nov. 29 to play the second night of a back-to-back. The Spurs were fined $250,000 by the NBA for the decision.
Even without four starters, San Antonio nearly bested Miami, holding a one-point lead with a minute remaining before LeBron James and Dwyane Wade rallied the Heat for a 105-100 victory.
Miami then sat James, Wade and Mario Chalmers on March 31 in San Antonio. The Heat responded by beating the Spurs 88-86 after Chris Bosh hit a 3-pointer with 1.9 seconds left.
San Antonio didn't spend much time reviewing either game during the week's film sessions.
"For the most part, yes, they don't really have much to do with anything that we're working on," Popovich said.
Instead, the Spurs spent much of their time off playing five-on-five in an attempt to maintain a rhythm that has them playing some of their best basketball of the season.
"I don't think we've had this much rest all season," Green said. "Hopefully it helped us and hopefully the extra games hurt them. That's what we're hoping for, that they're tired a little bit and that we're fresh and come out hopefully sharp."
San Antonio is averaging 101.6 points in the playoffs, slightly fewer than its regular season average (103.0). More importantly to the Spurs, their added defensive focus has enabled them to hold postseason opponents to 91.5 points compared to 96.6 during the regular season.
While staying sharp is important, remaining healthy is even more critical. Parker, Duncan and Ginobili have battled injuries all season, but all three - and the rest of the Spurs - escaped the downtime without any new ailments.
"That's always the fear right there," Duncan said. "You need to go in there, you need to knock heads, you need to go hard, you need to get that game rhythm and you've got to just hope everybody comes out on the other end unscathed - and we did."
So is it better to be rested or in rhythm entering a playoff series?
"I've got no clue," Popovich said. "We'll try to do our best."
Not surprisingly, Popovich didn't fully embrace his time with the media, but players such as Matt Bonner seemed to enjoy a break from the monotony of practice. When he wasn't letting his beard grow out, Bonner was jokingly trolling for sponsorship.
"Personally, I've been looking for a shoe endorsement for years now, but I've been unsuccessful," Bonner said. "No, that's a terrible joke, and, completely self-serving."
That's what happens when an extended break begins to feel like camp. Still, the Spurs wouldn't trade places with the Heat.
"You want to play," Ginobili said. "You don't want to lose your rhythm. That's what makes it a little harder, but, as I always said, you can't complain when you win a series in four instead of going to a Game 7, so we're OK."