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Short-handed Spurs fall to Heat, 105-100

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Short-handed Spurs fall to Heat, 105-100

MIAMI (AP) When Gregg Popovich gives his best players a night off to rest, it's not uncommon for the San Antonio Spurs coach to get letters from upset fans.

This time, he's going to hear from an upset commissioner - even after Popovich's short-handed team nearly knocked off the Miami Heat.

Ray Allen's 3-pointer with 22.6 seconds left gave Miami the lead, LeBron James finished with 23 points and the Heat rallied to beat the Spurs 105-100 on Thursday night - digging deep despite San Antonio's decision to have four top players resting at home in a move that bothered NBA Commissioner David Stern.

The Spurs played without Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green, all sent back to San Antonio by Popovich, who said the move was in his team's best interest.

``I don't think Pop was in the wrong,'' James said.

Stern disagreed, calling the decision ``unacceptable,'' apologizing to fans and saying that sanctions against the Spurs will be forthcoming.

``Oh, it would have been great if we won,'' Spurs forward Matt Bonner said after hearing about Stern's statement. ``It goes back to what I was saying, I'm sure everybody else was saying before the game. We have faith in everybody on our roster. We think we have one of the deepest teams in the league.''

The Heat weren't disagreeing afterward.

``We survived,'' Chris Bosh said. ``And we won. They have a bunch of talented guys over there. I know that nobody's going to really give them credit, but they are a tough bunch.''

How tough? Try this - the Spurs led by seven with 4:48 left, and the margin was 98-93 when Gary Neal made a 3-pointer with 2:14 remaining.

From there, Miami closed on a 12-2 run.

But all anyone will likely remember from this one is Popovich's decision - and whatever Stern does as a result.

``I apologize to all NBA fans,'' Stern said. ``This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming.''

Allen scored 20 points, Dwyane Wade added 19 and Chris Bosh finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds for Miami, now 7-0 at home.

Neal had 20 points for the Spurs. Tiago Splitter scored 18 points, Nando De Colo added 15, Boris Diaw scored 12 and Bonner had 10 for San Antonio, which finished a six-games-in-nine-nights road trip with a 5-1 record. Bonner also had 10 rebounds, one more than he had grabbed all season entering the game.

``Pop is the coach of the San Antonio Spurs,'' Neal said. ``He did what's best for us.''

The Spurs' five starters Thursday night came into the game averaging a combined 23.6 points, or 1.6 points less than James averaged entering the game.

And when the Heat ran out to a 16-6 lead, it seemed a blowout was in the offing. After all, even the oddsmakers in Las Vegas expected it to be that way - the Heat were favored by six points in most sports books before the news broke that the Spurs' regulars were resting, after which the line swelled to 13.

Apparently, no one told the Spurs that the second-string was supposed to play second-fiddle.

San Antonio closed the first quarter on a 21-6 run, taking a 27-22 lead after the period, and simply did not go away. The Spurs led by as many as seven at one point, and after James Anderson made a pair of free throws with 0.6 seconds left in the third, San Antonio held a 76-73 lead heading into the final 12 minutes.

But once again, James-to-Allen proved magical for Miami.

With the Heat down by one, James nearly lost the ball in the lane, collected himself and kicked it out to Allen, who connected from the left wing to put Miami ahead to stay. James also set up Allen for a final-moment four-point play to lift Miami over Denver earlier this season, along with another late 3-pointer that helped the Heat edge Cleveland last weekend.

``Every time a guy turns his head I have to find the open spot so LeBron can see me,'' Allen said. ``Anything can happen out there. We put ourselves in such a tough situation, but we kept plugging away.''

Thing is, no one ever thought it would come down to that.

Before the game, Popovich said he decided to sit his core when he saw how challenging this particular part of the schedule was for his team.

``Everybody has to make decisions about their schedule, about players playing and back-to-backs and trips and that sort of thing,'' Popovich said before the game. ``In our case, this month we've had 11 away games, after tonight. We've had an eight-day trip and a 10-day trip, and we're ending it with four (games) in five nights here. I think it'd be unwise to be playing our guys in that kind of a situation, given their history.''

It's not unlike other moves Popovich has made before; in fact, not only did he give Duncan, Parker and Ginobili time off together toward the end of last season, which was condensed by a lockout, he actually flew home to San Antonio with them and took a two-game, pre-playoff sabbatical.

This decision, Popovich said, was more about a home matchup with surging Memphis on Saturday.

``Perhaps it'll give us an opportunity to stay on the court with Memphis on Saturday night,'' Popovich said. ``Historically, when you're on a long road trip, that first game when you come home is really tough. And Memphis is one of the best teams in the league. They're of much more concern to us than playing four games in five nights. It's pretty logical.''

Given Stern's statement, it's also logical to think that the Spurs could know their penalty by Saturday as well.

NOTES: Miami last played on Saturday, at home; San Antonio had played on Sunday, Monday and Wednesday, all on the road. ... A moment of silence was held before the game for Sasha McHale, the daughter of Houston coach Kevin McHale. Sasha McHale died Saturday at age 23. ... It was the third straight home game in which Miami trailed in the fourth quarter.

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3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

You may think this was an ugly four-game road trip for the Caps, but with a 3-2 win in Buffalo on Monday, Washington managed to earn five out of a possible eight points.

Here is why the Caps beat the Sabres and managed to save the road swing.

A missed high-stick (maybe) from Ovechkin

Ovechkin scored the first goal of the game in the second period as he deflected a high-shot from Christian Djoos down past goalie Chad Johnson. But did the deflection come on a high stick? The play was reviewed and the goal was ultimately upheld. According to the NHL, it was determined that "video review supported the Referee's call on the ice that Alex Ovechkin's stick was at or below the height of the crossbar when he tipped the puck into the Buffalo net."

NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May broke the play down during the second intermission and made his case for why the NHL actually got the call wrong.

Was that a high stick? I don't know. As compelling an argument as May made, it still looks inconclusive which means the review made the right call. What surprises me is that the referee did not disallow the goal on the initial call.

Whether the review is truly inconclusive or flat out wrong, Washington was fortunate to walk away from this sequence with the goal.

MORE CAPITALS: BIZARRE SEQUENCE LEADS TO CAPS SCORING AND GETTING PENALIZED AT THE SAME TIME

A centimeter of ice

Hockey is a game of inches and it took less than an inch to put Washington up 2-0. When an Evgeny Kuznetsov shot hit off the boards and bounced back to the front of the net, it sparked a scrum next to goalie Chad Johnson. Eventually, John Carlson was able to get a swipe on the puck sending it trickling to the goal line, but Kyle Okposo was there waiting and appeared to kick it out to safety just before it crossed. A review triggered by the Situation Room, however, revealed that the puck had just barely managed to cross the goal line before Okposo got to it.

Here's the view the NHL released after the review:

Philipp Grubauer's third period

After dominating the first 40 minutes of the game and taking a 2-0 lead, Buffalo predictably made a late push in the third period with two goals to pull within one. Washington outshot the Sabres in the first and second periods, but Buffalo reversed that trend in a big way in the third as they outshot the Caps 17-6. Grubauer turned aside 15 of those shots and was impressive after barely being tested in the first two periods.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FROM CAPS-SABRE

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3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

Coming off an ugly 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, a Buffalo Sabres team missing star Jack Eichel was just what the doctor ordered for the Caps to get back on track. Washington dominated the first two periods and then survived a late surge from Buffalo for the 3-2 win.

After battling to a scoreless first, Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson spotted Washington a 2-0 lead in the second. They then held on in the third period as Buffalo began to tilt the ice in their favor, with Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring the empty-netter to put this game out of reach. Evander Kane would pull Buffalo within one, but with only three seconds left it was too little, too late.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Alex Ovechkin: Ovechkin opened up the scoring in the second period as he deflected down an innocent shot from Christian Djoos past Chad Johnson.

Ovechkin also set a physical tone as he battled with defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen all game long. After taking a high elbow from Ristolainen early in the game Ovechkin skated up to Ristolainen prior to the faceoff on his next shift and let him know that it was on. 

2. John Carlson: Carlson had a hand in both of Washington's first two goals. He recorded a secondary assist on Ovechkin's goal as he made a blue line pass to Djoos which Djoos fired on net and Ovechkin deflected. Carlson then managed to hit the puck past the goal line in a scrum next to Johnson. It looked initially like Kyle Okposo had managed to kick out the puck just before it crossed, but Carlson was awarded the goal as a review showed the puck had completely crossed the line.

3. Philipp Grubauer: A Sabres team that ranks last in the NHL in scoring and that was also without its leading scorer did not test Grubauer much in the first two periods. Facing a 2-0 deficit, however, Buffalo made a third period push to try to tie the game, but Grubauer was up to the task as he turned aside 15 of the 17 shots he faced in the final 20 minutes. He finished with 32 total saves on the night.