The NBA handed down a steep $250,000 fine on the San Antonio Spurs for keeping four of their top players out of a marquee early-season game against the defending champion Miami Heat.

Power forward Tim Duncan, point guard Tony Parker and swingman Manu Ginobili - the core players for a Spurs franchise that won three NBA titles between 2003 and 2007 - were sent back to San Antonio after the team's 110-89 road victory Wednesday night over the Orlando Magic.

Starting small forward Danny Green also was kept out of Thursday night's matchup at Miami's American Airlines Arena between the Spurs and Heat, who brought 12-4 and 10-3 records, respectively, into the contest.

Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said after that game - broadcast nationwide by TNT - that the decision was taken in July with the aim of avoiding injury to his veteran players during a stretch of the season that featured six games in nine days, all of them on the road.

The Spurs have another tough game coming up Saturday night against the 12-2 Memphis Grizzlies, but NBA Commissioner David Stern was unsympathetic.

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

The contest between the Heat and the shorthanded Spurs figured to be lopsided, but Miami needed a fourth-quarter rally to pull out a 105-100 victory. EFE