MIAMI -- The San Antonio Spurs may have lost more than just a basketball game Thursday night. They now face "substantial" penalties from NBA commissioner David Stern.
The Miami Heat rallied for a hard-fought, 105-100 win over the short-handed Spurs to improve to 7-0 at AmericanAirlines Arena, the best home start in franchise history.
Stern promised sanctions, to be announced as early as Friday, after the Spurs decided to play without four of their top five scorers in an attempt to rest them on the tail end of a six-game road trip.
The Spurs were missing Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green, all of whom coach Greg Popovich sent home after San Antonio's win in Orlando on Wednesday night.
The Spurs also sat out injured rotation members Stephen Jackson and Kawhi Leonard, leaving San Antonio with only nine available players.
"I apologize to all NBA fans," Stern said in his statement. "This was an unacceptable decision by the Spurs, and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming."
Even without their mainstays, the Spurs led by five points with 1:58 left Thursday, but baskets by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade cut the lead to one. Ray Allen hit a 3-pointer with 22 seconds left to put Miami on top. It was his third game-winning 3-pointer this season, all at home and all on passes from James.
"There is still a nano-second of reaction when Ray shoots, thinking he is still on the other side," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the former Boston Celtics star.
The Spurs had won eight straight road games, including five on the trip that ended Thursday.
Popovich said he and his players talked about the decision, "and we all agreed on this course of action."
The Spurs have a big home game Saturday night against division rival Memphis (11-2), which has the best winning percentage in the NBA. That will be the first of three straight home games for the Spurs.
"It was the best thing for our team," Popovich said. "It had nothing to do with whether it was on TV or not. It had to do with the schedule. We had 11 road games this month. We had an eight-day trip and a 10-day trip.
"We have done this before in hopes we are making a wiser decision instead of a macho decision. Perhaps it will give us a chance to stay on the court with Memphis.
"It is pretty logical. I don't think it was a tough decision at all. In fact, the decision was made when the schedule came out."
Popovich, who has won four NBA titles and is considered a master at managing the minutes of his veteran players, has made it a priority to rest Duncan, 36; Ginobili, 35; and Parker, 30. They are averaging 31, 23 and 30 minutes, respectively.
By comparison, the Heat's Big Three of James, Wade and Chris Bosh are averaging 37, 33 and 33, respectively.
Last season, Popovich rested some of his veterans in three games -- without sanctions from Stern. But when Popovich rested players in 2011-12, it was much later in the season -- and it was during a compacted schedule that followed the NBA lockout.
Sending home his star players this time surely disappointed TNT, which televised the game and anticipated a matchup between two teams that could meet in this season's NBA Finals.
The Spurs (13-4) lead the NBA with in wins and have the best road record (9-2). The Heat (11-3) leads the Eastern Conference and joins the Knicks and Jazz as the only teams with perfect home records.
San Antonio started a lineup of prospects and career backups that included Matt Bonner, Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw, Patrick Mills and Nando de Colo.
According to linemakers.sportingnews.com, the betting line went from the Heat favored by six points to 12.5 after the Popovich decision.
Spoelstra, whose team is now 5-3 this season against 2012 playoff teams, said he was not surprised by the Spurs' decision.
"It's not the first time (Popovich) has done it," Spoelstra said. "You can't really say unless you are in a position where it would benefit you."
However, Spoelstra admitted that his players were "lethargic" once they realized they were not facing the Spurs' best lineup.
"Our guys were looking forward to playing this game," Spoelstra said. "It's the human condition (to be let down), but we're not going to make any excuses."
Asked about Stern's vow to issue sanctions, Popovich said he would never react to something he had not read or heard.
Regarding the on-court results, Popovich said, "We just tried to play well, use our system and do everything we usually do to try to win a game. This was a tough loss, but I couldn't be more proud of the way our guys played. We played well, but not quite good enough."
Spoelstra said he had no comment on Stern's statement.
"I have enough on my plate," Spoelstra said. "I have no idea how tired they were. I spend zero time trying to figure that out."
Responding to word of the promised sanctions, the Spurs' Bonner said, "That would have been great if we won. We have faith in everyone on our roster."
James scored a game-high 23 points, Wade scored 19, and Bosh added 18 points and 12 rebounds. Gary Neal led the Spurs with 20 points, while Splitter contributed 18 points and nine rebounds. Bonner finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
NOTES: Heat starting forward Shane Battier (sprained right knee) was deactivated for the game. He also is likely out for Saturday's home game against the Brooklyn Nets. Rashard Lewis started in his place. ... Popovich's decision to rest Green, 25, was a major surprise, given his age. But Popovich said Green, who is averaging 30.9 minutes this season, second most on the team, was worn out. "We've overplayed him," the coach said. "Since those three (Duncan, Ginobili and Parker) went home, it made sense to give him a break, too." ... Six out of 15 players on the Spurs roster never played college basketball. Among the nationalities represented on the team are Brazil, France, Argentina, Australia and the Virgin Islands. In contrast, all 15 of the Heat's players are American-born.