HEAT 105 - Mavericks 94 Recap

Throw the final score out the window.

The Miami HEAT beat the Dallas Mavericks, 105-94, on the NBA’s opening day, but that was after the typical, and expected, late surge once most starters had been removed from the game. Through three quarters, the score was 97-65, with the HEAT using fewer than 80 possessions to get there. Those numbers are indicative enough of what happened on Christmas Day.

No, it didn’t erase or heal memories of the NBA Finals, but only because it had nothing to do with the NBA Finals. In fact, this matchup may not have had anything to do with any future Miami-Dallas matchups at all. Dallas had a number of new, and missing, pieces it was trying to incorporate while Miami returned most of its core, leaving us with a game that provides for as much useful matchup information as Miami’s opening day loss to Boston did a season ago.

But taking the Mavericks out of the equation, this game told us plenty about the HEAT.

Watching Miami push the ball off both misses and make, spread the floor to occasional perfection and constantly move without the ball, it’s tempting to label what we’ve seen as a new, shiny offense that Erik Spoelstra came up with over last summer. Certainly there are new aspects – there’s much more of a focus on the post now – but little of the beautiful basketball seen in this game exists without the many pained and labored games of a year ago.

Somewhere, someone will write that Spoelstra has let go of the reins, letting the HEAT run free, but that never could have happened when Miami’s core not only had to learn how to play together, but had to learn entirely new ways to play the game at all. Chris Bosh had to shift to the high post and learn how to be a spacing anchor for the offense while still being aggressive and both LeBron James (37 points today) and Dwyane Wade had to learn how to play, and move, without the ball in their hands for entire possessions. Spoelstra had to experiment with a number of different offenses, from triangle sets to pieces from Rick Adelman’s offense, and learn how best to use a constantly developing group of players.

But because they endured some stretches of ugly, disjointed basketball, the HEAT can now harness a controlled chaos, alternating between crisp, spaced half-court execution and lethal open-court prowess. Without last season, it would just be chaos.

“I think that’s a great storyline but that’s not necessarily how we played tonight,” Spoelstra said of the team’s increased pace. “We used a lot of different things offensively to be aggressive, and that’s certainly one of them, but we have to be able to play different styles and different ways to be able to hurt you and we feel we have enough versatility and the depth to be able to do that. At times we’re able to really be aggressive in the open court, and other times we’re able to execute in the half court. And that’s what will be needed, particularly against the real tough defensive teams.”

After all, that’s what hurt Miami in those final playoff games against Dallas. They could always score in the open court when creating turnovers in the passing lanes – and they swarmed the lanes today – but their failings were in the half court.

Now, the spacing – helped particularly by Udonis Haslem and the HEAT’s array of capable shooters – appears superb. It’s spacing that unlocks the lanes to cut through and the space to create. It’s spacing that beckons for the pass; that infects a team with movement of ball and body.

And it’s last year that allowed for the spacing to start off a brand new season on such a thrilling note. A note that, after one double-alley oop in transition, has you wondering how many more full-court alley oops we’ll enjoy before this season’s journey is finished.