MIAMI -- For nine of the San Antonio Spurs, a six-game, nine-night trip was ending in Miami on Thursday.
For four others, it ended one game and one night earlier.
Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green -- the core of the Spurs -- were sent home by San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich a day early to rest, and weren't with the team for its nationally televised matchup in Miami against the reigning NBA champion Heat.
Following the decision to rest his star players, NBA Commissioner David Stern released a statement addressing the situation.
"I apologize to all NBA fans. This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming."
Popovich said he made the decision when he saw the schedule.
All four of those players appeared in Orlando on Wednesday, when the Spurs improved to 9-1 on the road and 5-0 on this trip. The team plane went to Miami, but that group went back home on Thursday instead.
"Everybody has to make decisions about their schedule, about players playing and back-to-backs and trips and that sort of thing," Popovich said. "In our case, this month we've had 11 away games, after (Thursday). 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."
Duncan is in his 16th NBA season, Parker his 12th and Ginobili his 11th. Green is a kid compared to those guys -- 25 years old and a veteran of only 110 NBA games -- but Popovich said he chose to rest him as well because of his high minute count.
Green leads the Spurs with 496 minutes played this season, which was 44th-most in the NBA entering Thursday's games. The Spurs aren't expected to practice Friday, then face Memphis on Saturday in San Antonio.
"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."
Popovich has made similar moves in the past to rest his older players, such as Duncan. He also said he knows that making decisions like this aren't exactly popular with fans, such as those in Miami who will only see the Spurs once. (All four did appear in San Antonio's preseason trip to Miami in October, though that hardly counts.)
Popovich also said facing the Heat had nothing to do with his decision.
"I've gotten letters from those people before when I've done it and I understand their perspective totally," Popovich said. "If I was taking my 6-year-old son or daughter to the game, I'd want him or her to see everybody. And if they weren't there, I'd be disappointed. So I understand that perspective. Hopefully, people in that position will understand my perspective, what my priority is -- the basketball team and what's best for it."
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Popovich's move didn't affect Miami's preparation.
"Each organization has a big-picture view of what they are trying to get accomplished and I think the league respects that," Spoelstra said.
Popovich listed Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner, Tiago Splitter, Nando De Colo and Patty Mills in his starting lineup. Besides the four players sent home, Stephen Jackson and Kawhi Leonard are injured, meaning the Spurs had only four substitutes available.
"Obviously," Bonner said, "we're a little short-handed."
The Heat had one lineup move as well. With Shane Battier out with a sprained right knee, Spoelstra moved Rashard Lewis into Miami's starting lineup alongside LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers.