(Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)
Earl K. Sneed reports from Miami and recaps the defending champion Dallas Mavericks' loss to the Heat in a return to the scene of last year's championship-sealing Game 6 win.
MIAMI — There were not only fond memories awaiting the Dallas Mavericks as they stepped back into American Airlines Arena for the first time since winning the NBA championship on the Miami Heat’s home floor last June, there was also a bit of good news coming their way Thursday night.
Looking to disregard last season’s championship feats and concentrate on the task at hand, the defending champion Mavericks welcomed back both starting center Brendan Haywood and new addition Delonte West to the active roster just in time to possibly bring an end to the Heat’s 14-game home win streak.
Haywood had missed the previous six games due to a sprained right knee. Meanwhile, West looked to return from a fractured right ring finger and subsequent surgery that had kept him sidelined since Feb. 15.
Still, it wouldn’t take long for that good news to be all for not by night’s end.
With West playing limited minutes and Haywood being saved for the Mavs’ matchup one night later against All-Star center Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic, the Mavericks wouldn’t be able to avenge their 105-94 Christmas Day defeat. And after returning to the locker room where last season’s squad celebrated with championship champagne toasting, the Mavericks (29-23) tasted the bitterness of defeat following a 106-85 loss to begin their two-game road trip.
“We couldn’t make shots. We had some good looks, couldn’t get stops and they just kept going,” point guard Jason Kidd said of the loss. “So, we got stuck and that happens. And it’s something we can learn from.”
The Mavericks would find themselves in a dogfight in the early going while trying to bring an end to the Heat’s unbeaten stretch at home. But behind the outside shooting of Vince Carter, the Mavericks bested the Heat’s Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh score for score.
And with Carter raining in 3-of-5 shooting from behind the three-point arc, the Mavs led 29-24 after one.
With West checking in at the 9:34 mark of the second quarter and immediately connecting on a 3-pointer, the Mavericks looked to keep their advantage despite a hard-charging Wade at the other end of the floor. Wade would work his team in front, however, with an array of offensive moves.
West and backup big man Brandan Wright would give the Mavs a spark off the bench while leading scorer Dirk Nowitzki looked to take over the game offensively. But despite Nowitzki’s 16 first-half points, the Mavs surrendered an 11-4 spurt to the Heat at the end of the second period as Miami took a 60-53 lead into the halftime break.
Although Nowitzki lit the net on fire to the tune of 8-of-10 shooting through two quarters, the Heat (36-13) outshot the Mavericks at the half, 61.5 percent to 54.8 percent. The Mavs did stay close, however, thanks to 7-of-17 shooting from behind the three-point arc to overcome a 26-14 deficit in points in the paint.
“I think first half everything came a little too easy for us,” Nowitzki said. “Offensively, we had some good looks, had everything going. … Just defensively we weren’t sharp enough. Can’t give up 60 percent shooting in the first half.”
An explosive move to the basket and empathic finish by Carter briefly gave the Mavs life again as the third quarter got underway. But the Dallas offense would become stagnant while the Heat surged in front by double digits.
And with an ability to collect consecutive defensive stops masking Lamar Odom’s nine straight points, the Mavericks headed into the final period on the downside of an 80-69 score.
“Lamar was great tonight,” Kidd said with high praise for his teammate. “We need that and we couldn’t help him. We couldn’t get anybody to go with him and Dirk tonight.”
“My legs are finally getting underneath me, where I feel like I can come out of a move and make a shot. It’s a big difference,” Odom modestly said.
Despite Odom’s attempt at heroics, the Mavericks continued to face a double-digit deficit in the early stage of the final period while starting 2-of-16 from the field.
“Well, we had trouble getting the ball in the basket. That hurt us,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle explained. “Second-chance points hurt us and then they hit a flurry of transition points at some inopportune times for us. So, it was disappointing because our start to the third quarter was strong and then they answered back.”
“Really, you’ve got to give them credit. They stepped up their pressure on both ends of the floor,” Nowitzki added. “They really picked up the pressure and they got into us, and we didn’t really have any good looks anymore. … They really stepped up their pressure defensively, so you’ve got to give them credit.”
Still, after Kidd’s pump fake and 3-pointer, the Mavs had life with the disadvantage at 86-76 with 8:25 left. But the Heat would use their clear edge at the free throw line to their advantage by keeping the Mavs at bay with more attempts at the charity stripe. An alley-oop connection between Wade and James then put the finishing touches on the Heat’s victory by putting the Mavs in a 99-83 hole with 3:03 remaining.
“I just think they had us going both ways all night. LeBron and D-Wade were still getting theirs and all the other guys got theirs, so then you’re in trouble,” Nowitzki concluded.
Carlisle conceded defeat a short time later by pulling his starters in the final minutes as the Heat finished the final 4:37 of the game on a 16-2 run.
In a losing effort, Nowitzki finished with 25 points on 9-of-19 shooting and 7-of-7 from the foul line to go with six rebounds. Off the bench, Odom added 12 points while Wright matched Carter’s 11 points.
Meanwhile, sixth man Jason Terry struggled to just 1-of-10 shooting while facing larger defenders.
Led by 19 points apiece by James and Bosh, the Heat finished the night with six players in double figures while outshooting the Mavericks, 48.8 percent to 42.3 percent. The Mavs also lost the rebounding battle, 44-29, in addition to surrendering 46 points in the paint to their own 24.
The Heat’s 27 free throws also doubled Dallas’ 13 attempts at the charity stripe.
With the rebounding advantage, the Heat also finished with a 17-8 edge in second-chance points in addition to a 13-2 margin in fast-break scoring. Miami turned Dallas’ 15 turnovers into 19 points at the other end as well, allowing just eight points on their 13 giveaways.
“You know, when James and Wade get a head of steam, it’s just hard to keep them from getting to the rim and hard to keep them from getting on the free throw line. So, we needed to do better,” Carlisle concluded.
The Mavericks will now travel to Orlando for a matchup against the Magic. That game will air Friday night locally on Fox Sports Southwest and nationally on ESPN at 7 p.m. CT.
“You know, everybody is playing for a playoff spot right now. So, we’ve gotta figure out a way to get one on the road before we go back home,” Kidd concluded.
The team returns to the American Airlines Center next Monday night when it plays host to the Los Angeles Clippers. The two teams are 1-1 in the season series with both winning on their own home floor. That game will air locally on Fox Sports Southwest at 7:30 p.m. CT. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by calling (214) 747-MAVS.
Single-game tickets are on sale and available at the American Airlines Center North Box Office, online at mavs.com, via phone by calling 214-747-MAVS or 1-800-4NBA-TIX and all Ticketmaster outlets (Fiesta Grocery Stores, Wal-Mart, Simon Mall in Garland and the Shops at Willow Bend in Plano).