MIAMI -- San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sent stars Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, plus key role player Danny Green, home for Thursday night's game against the Miami Heat, choosing rest instead of playing them in an early-season showdown.
NBA commissioner David Stern promised repercussions for the move, saying the Spurs will face "substantial sanctions" for their approach to the game.
"I apologize to all NBA fans," Stern said in a statement. "This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming."
Popovich sent the four players on a commercial flight back to Texas instead of playing them in a fourth game in five nights in Miami, a move he said he decided on when the schedule came out in July.
That group will prepare for the team's home game Saturday night against the Memphis Grizzlies, who own the league's best record, instead of playing the Heat, who came in with the Eastern Conference's best record at 10-3.
With Stephen Jackson and Kawhi Leonard out with injuries, the Spurs will take on the Heat without six of their top players. They will have nine players in uniform.
"It's the best thing for our team," Popovich said. "Everybody has to make decisions about their schedule. We've done this before in hopes we're making a wiser decision and not a macho decision. Perhaps it'll give us an opportunity to stay on the floor with Memphis on Saturday night."
The Spurs have rested Duncan, Parker and Ginobili and have not had them travel to various road games several times during the past several seasons as they monitor their aging stars' minutes. Popovich said he included Green this time because he's led the team in minutes during the first month of the season.
The Spurs played their 11th road game of the month in Miami and are at the end of a six-game trip. They are 5-0 on the trip and 9-1 on the road this season. They won at Toronto, Washington and Orlando during the past four days, teams with a combined record of 9-34.
"Every team goes through tough months travelwise," Popovich said. "You don't ***** and moan about it. You deal with it the best way you can."
The Heat had a distinct rest advantage, having not played since last Saturday. They prepared for the Spurs not playing their full roster.
"Every team is different. It's not the first time (Popovich) has done it and it's not a surprise," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We're not going to get caught up in things we can't control."