Two of the NBA's best will square off on national television tonight. The defending champion Miami Heat will look to protect their perfect home record against the always-dangerous San Antonio Spurs. Led by future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan, San Antonio has gone 9-1 on the road this season.
The Spurs are also on a five-game winning streak and would like to extend it to six. The Heat have won four in a row, and will look to widen their lead in the Southeast Division with the hard-charging Atlanta Hawks nipping at their heels.
The Heat have also gone 2-1 against San Antonio since LeBron James took his talents to South Beach, and continuing to play well against the constantly contending Spurs will play a key factor down the road. Both teams are among the best in their respective conferences, and there's always the chance the two could meet in the NBA Finals.
However, it's going to be a different story tonight. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has opted to send some of his best players home for the final game of a six-game road trip. San Antonio will be without Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green tonight.
They could still win the game, but it's going to be an uphill battle.
Time: Thursday, November 29th, 8 p.m. EST
Records: San Antonio Spurs (13-3) vs. Miami Heat (10-3)
Betting Lines: San Antonio Spurs (+6) vs. Miami Heat (-6), via Bovada
Injuries: Shane Battier (knee, doubtful), Kawhi Leonard (knee, out), Stephen Jackson (finger, out)
Key Storyline: Can New, Balanced Spurs Contain Miami's Offensive Onslaught?
As talented as the Miami Heat are, their philosophy has gotten a bit predictable: overwhelm the opposition with the Big Three's offense, and shoot the lights out when the stars are off the court. This system has Miami ranked second in the NBA with 104.8 points per game, but their defense leaves something to be desired. It ranks 25th in points allowed with 100.3 per game and is 27th in rebounding.
Contrastingly, the Spurs are the definition of balance. Their starters get their fair share of minutes, but the second unit is shaping up to be one of the best in the NBA. Manu Ginobili remains one of the best bench players in the league, and Tiago Splitter is turning into an excellent big man.
The Spurs are also a fine defensive team, ranking ninth in points allowed. However, they have struggled to keep up with younger teams in the past.
In 2011, despite being the top seed in the Western Conference, they were eliminated from the playoffs by No. 8 Memphis. Last season, they lost to the red-hot Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals.
The fact is that the team's older players often struggle against faster, younger teams, and Miami won't be an exception to the rule. San Antonio's defense will have to be fully locked in, and even that won't guarantee a victory.
This game is going to be close, but numbers coming into it don't mean a thing. When push comes to shove, the team that wants it more will be the last one standing.
Key Matchup: Mario Chalmers vs. Patty Mills
Patty Mills will likely start at the point in Parker's absence, and he's going to have a tough night ahead of him. He'll be guarded by the pesky Mario Chalmers, who is averaging 1.7 steals per game.
This matchup is Chalmers' to lose. Mills is primarily a bench shooter, and he doesn't have much experience running the point in the NBA, let alone starting. For his career, he is only averaging 12 minutes per game.
It is all the more important that he play well tonight in Parker's absence. He is so fast and can be such an electrifying three-point shooter, and just has to win the mental battle with Chalmers.
It won't be easy getting past the former Kansas Jayhawk's pesky defense, but Mills has what it takes to keep his team in the game from start to finish.
X-Factors: LeBron James
James is going to have quite the advantage tonight at small forward. The inexperienced James Anderson will likely be guarding him, and the stage is set for James to have an absolutely epic night.
The reigning MVP is already having a fine season. He is averaging 25.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game and shooting an astounding 53 percent from the field.
Green is not a strong defender, so James needs to exploit this matchup and torch the Spurs.
James is Miami's best player for a reason, and he must play aggressive tonight for the Heat to win.
There's only one thing to really say about this game. It's going to be fairly close, despite one team being shorthanded.
Both teams are deeply talented and capable of winning a championship, and there's definitely the possibility both could face off in the NBA Finals. To do that, however, they need to maintain their current paces and perform well.
Tonight, the team that accomplishes that will be the Miami Heat. San Antonio may have a tougher defense, but the lack of their core stars will just be too much
Thus, look for Miami to play the run and gun game most of the evening. San Antonio's much improved second unit will be able to keep up most of the time, but will fall short due to the players' inexperience.
LeBron James will have a triple-double and throw down some highlight reel-worthy dunks. Chris Bosh will win all battles in the paint while Ray Allen does fine work from behind the three-point line.
On San Antonio's end, look for Gary Neal to carry the team offensively and for Patty Mills to look lost at the point. Neal will score in double figures along with teammate Tiago Splitter, but it just won't be enough to stop Miami's Big Three.
The Heat will have won this matchup by the final buzzer, thus protecting their perfect home record for another day.
Miami Heat 110, San Antonio Spurs 96