Can Spurs get back at Heat? Can they survive West?


By Brian Mahoney ,AP

To get another shot at LeBron James, the San Antonio Spurs may have to go through Dirk Nowitzki, then Dwight Howard and James Harden, and finally Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Survive all that, and maybe they can avenge last year’s NBA Finals heartbreak.

“There’s definitely that burning desire in the back of your mind that really wants to get back there,” Spurs guard Patty Mills said.

They get started on Sunday, right before James and the Miami Heat begin what they hope is a run to a third straight championship. Miami’s path seems much easier, but James’ team also appears more vulnerable than the one that was an overwhelming favorite in last year’s playoffs.

Maybe that was boredom, though. Count on the Heat to pick it up now.

“This is why we’re all here,” Heat forward Shane Battier said. “The regular season is great and all, but this is the fun part. You wake up and you’re excited for the challenge of the playoffs.”

It begins on Saturday with four games: The top-seeded Indiana Pacers host the Atlanta Hawks, and the Brooklyn Nets visit the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference, while the West series openers include the Golden State Warriors at the Los Angeles Clippers, and the Oklahoma City Thunder against the Memphis Grizzlies.

On Sunday, No. 1 overall seed San Antonio opens against the Dallas Mavericks, right before Miami welcomes the Charlotte Bobcats. Washington at Chicago, and Houston hosting Portland round out the action.

The finals came to a thrilling conclusion last year, with the Heat rallying from a five-point deficit in the last 28 seconds of regulation to win Game 6. They went on to take a tight Game 7, helped when Tim Duncan missed over Battier from point-blank range, as San Antonio fell to its first loss in five NBA Finals appearances.