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Fran Blinebury

In San Antonio last October, Manu and the Spurs beat LeBron's Heat, 90-73.
Chris Covatta/NBAE via Getty Images

Heat-Spurs: A basketball clash of style, substance and salsa

Posted Mar 4 2011 10:13AM

SAN ANTONIO -- One team comes decked out in the outrageous embellishment of Lady Gaga. The other wears fewer frills than Lady Godiva.

One team has created more commotion than a jackhammer joining a brass band. The other usually makes less noise than a mime tip-toeing across a feather bed.

When the Heat face the Spurs on Friday night at the AT&T Center (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), it will be not be just the best of the West against a beast of the East, a possible NBA Finals preview. It will be a vast contrast in styles and substance.

It's yin and yang, hot and cold, bungee jumping and reading a book. For form against function, it might as well be Brooklyn Decker vs. Black & Decker.

After all, what do Miami and San Antonio really have in common except salsa? Even then, one dances to it and the other puts it on chips.

From the time that LeBron James sat before the ESPN TV cameras and announced that he was taking his talents to South Beach, the Heat have drawn more attention than a lamb chop at a wolf convention. From the very moment that James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were first introduced as teammates amid strobe lights and a smoke machine at the American Airlines Arena, the Heat made the jump from the sports pages to the style sections and became a coast-to-coast mania. The only thing missing was Ringo and, in fact, they began calling themselves "The Heatles."

The Spurs simply stayed in the gym and thought about basketball.

When Miami lost on the season's opening night in Boston, it was treated as a cataclysmic event. When San Antonio lost at home to New Orleans in the second game of the season, it was seen as a message and a reason to go back to work.

It was Thanksgiving weekend when the Heat were whipped in Dallas, dropping their record to 9-8. The speculation swirled as to how long coach Erik Spoelstra could last on the job. On that same holiday weekend, the Spurs lost for only the second time on the season. Their 14-2 record hinted that something even bigger was coming.

Just when the season was at the brink, Miami turned it all around with a scorching stretch from Nov. 29 to Jan. 9, winning 21 out of 22 games. Still the Heat never stopped looking up at San Antonio, stacking wins brick by brick in the standings.

So here they are, a couple of thoroughbreds coming off the turn and heading into the stretch run of the 82-game marathon, almost looking as if they've arrived from opposite directions.

Miami is 43-18, just a hair behind the Celtics as the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. Yet there are still whispers; that James and Wade haven't yet figured out how to play against a half-court offense, or about who will take the shot in a close game, or who will get to pose on magazine covers as an MVP.

The Spurs are 50-11, an arm's length ahead of everyone in the race for best record in the league. All they hear is coach Gregg Popovich yelling about tightening up their defense.

It is said that the Spurs got a team so good the old-fashioned way, by Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker healing their bodies, by Richard Jefferson spending countless hours in the gym over the summer remaking his game, by the whole bunch of them buying into Popovich's revamped system. Of course, the Heat got a team so good an even more old-fashioned way: they bought it.

Miami rides into every visiting city and arena on a roaring tsunami of hype and fury. Yet it is San Antonio that arrives every spring like the river that overflows its banks under the cover of night. No less deadly.

With their last victory, the Spurs tied Magic Johnson's Lakers for the all-time NBA record with 12 consecutive 50-win seasons. The 2005-06 team that set the franchise mark with 63 wins was only 48-13 at the same point in the schedule. So this is the fastest the Spurs have ever reached the half-century mark, even if almost no one has noticed.

With their last loss -- blowing a 24-point lead at home to Orlando -- the Heat showed that for all their swagger, they still have the vulnerability of newborn kittens. Yet even the crowd in San Antonio will be craning its necks tonight to get a glimpse of the strut and star power.

It's runway models vs. Model Ts, fireworks vs. fireflies, Heat vs. Spurs.

Different strokes for different folks.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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