MIAMI -- No, this wasn't exactly Game 8 of the 2013 NBA Finals. And, no, LeBron James wasn't creating new nightmares.
Unlike the San Antonio Spurs' previous two visits to AmericanAirlines Arena, there was no chance Saturday's preseason game against the Miami Heat would prove traumatic.
Even with James taking the night off and even with the Spurs going with their regular starting lineup, the Heat still found their way to a 121-96 victory, with the stakes decidedly less than when the teams last met.
Dwyane Wade, continuing his pattern of playing every other preseason game, returned to close with 25 points on 10-of-14 shooting, seven assists and four rebounds in 27 minutes, playing with a hop in his step and an aggressive bent amid James' absence.
It was a decidedly different Wade than when the teams last met, with the Heat's All-Star guard needing extensive treatment just to get his balky knees through Game 7 against the Spurs in last season's NBA Finals on June 20.
Then there was forward James Jones, who started in place of James and shot 6 of 8 on 3-pointers on the way to 18 points, providing outset spark just as he did when previously starting in place of Wade this preseason.
Rounding out a trio of solid efforts for the Heat was center Chris Bosh who closed 8 of 10 from the field for 17 points in 26 minutes. Michael Beasley added 12 points.
The game was the first meeting since the Heat won the finals two games of the 2013 NBA Finals to secure the franchise's second consecutive championship.
Back at the scene of his team's nightmare finish, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of losing Game 6 and Game 7 of that series, "It still goes through my head every day."
"The other night I dreamt about LeBron," he said. "The next day it might be Ray Allen hitting a shot in the corner. It might be us missing a free throw, not getting a rebound. All those things go through your head."
This time James merely watched as a spectator, taking his first game off this preseason. Allen also sat out.
"No injuries. I'm just not suiting up. It's OK for LeBron to take one off," James said. "I plan on playing (Wednesday) in New Orleans and probably take the last one off (at home Friday against the Nets)."
Told of Popovich's dreams, with James named Most Valuable Player of last season's Finals, James said, "So dreams or nightmares? Because I know I had nightmares . . . when they beat us pretty bad when I was in Cleveland (in the 2007 Finals)."
Popovich said there were lessons from both teams to carry forward from last season's Finals.
"You can't just ignore things," he said. "You can't win and think everything is hunky dory and you're the greatest team in the world and forget it, or lose and think that you were worthless and move on. You've got to do it realistically, look at the good and the bad, improve from both and then you carry on."
Bosh said he could appreciate the process of moving forward, considering he collapsed in the locker-room tunnel after the Heat fell to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals.
"I mean, you get to a point, one of the parts I realized, you realize all that work you put in, you went through everything, you overcame so much just to come up short, it's no fair," Bosh said. "That's just how it is and you know that you don't have another chance that season and you have to go through everything all over again, just to get back to that point, just to have that chance again. It stinks. It's a pain I never felt before. After feeling that, you become more of a killer."
Asked if he therefore empathized with the Spurs, Bosh said, "As a professional competitor? Not so much, no. As a human being? Yes. You have to have a different mentality in this sport. You have to have an us-or-them mentality. Of course it's better us than them."
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