Two of the hottest squads in the NBA meet up Monday night on South Beach, writes Earl K. Sneed. The Mavericks look to go 2-0 versus the Heat when they enter Miami to begin a Florida back-to-back.
MIAMI — The last time the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat saw each other both teams were still trying to find themselves.
A lot has changed for the positive for both teams since, but Monday night something’s got to give. And with two of the hottest squads in the NBA colliding on the same floor, there figures to be scorching play at Miami's American Airlines Arena.
Since Nov. 27, when the Mavericks (21-5) handed the Heat a 106-95 loss on the American Airlines Center floor, both teams have ascended to the top tier of the NBA. The Mavericks have propelled themselves to the third-best record in the league, after reeling off 14 wins in their last 15 games.
Meanwhile, the Heat (21-8) has also played its best basketball of late, matching the Mavericks’ best winning streak of the season with 12 consecutive victories since falling to 9-8 after dropping a 13th straight regular-season game to the Mavs.
“In the last three weeks, not only have they [the Heat] been unbeatable, but they’ve been untouchable,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “I mean, they’re winning by ridiculous, unprecedented margins on a consistent basis.”
“We’ve done a nice job against hot teams all season, even on the road. So, it’s definitely a good test for us in Miami,” forward Dirk Nowitzki added.
But in order for the Mavericks to end Miami’s unbeaten stretch, they must first do what no team has been able to do in the Heat’s last 12 outings. They must find a way to slow down two-time MVP LeBron James and perennial All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
“I think that Big Three, obviously, has just picked it up,” Nowitzki said. “All of them are scoring better and they seem to be in a better groove playing off each other.”
The trio, also known as the Super Friends, was expected to play well once the three stars came together via free agency in the offseason. But even Carlisle admits that James, Wade and Bosh, in addition to the Heat’s role players, are playing at a higher level than they were coming into that November matchup.
“It’s three great players and then a group of role players that complement those guys extremely well with 3-point shooting, rebounding and activity on the offensive boards. So, it’s a terrific challenge,” Carlisle said.
The coach adds that the Heat has even changed its style of play since last month’s meeting, saying that Miami is playing at a much faster tempo and attacking the rim with much more regularity.
Still, Carlisle intends to utilize the same game plan that the Mavericks used against the Heat the first time around, when the Dallas defense and a balanced scoring attack were key in combating a combined 67 points from Miami’s Big Three.
Not only did the Mavericks hold the Heat to just 41 percent shooting in that game, but the Dallas team also featured six scorers in double figures led by Caron Butler’s 23 points and Nowitzki’s 22. The Mavs also finished that game with a 39-22 advantage in bench scoring, a 48-26 edge in points and the paint, while also posting a 7-of-17 night from behind the 3-point line.
Those lopsided numbers in the Mavericks’ favor spawned a players-only meeting after the game in the Heat’s locker room. They haven’t lost since.
“They’ve played more together,” Mavericks sixth man Jason Terry explained. “Obviously, their chemistry after that meeting has been tight. And they run a lot more, and they’re making more shots.”
“I said it when we played them the first time, really they had no preseason,” Nowitzki added. “Wade was out really the whole preseason. And I think it just took them awhile to get used to each other, but they’ve been scoring off of each other and all of them are scoring over 20. And that’s really tough to beat.”
But none of that will matter Monday night, according to Carlisle, as the Mavs try to repeat the results of the first meeting and do what Washington just failed to do Saturday night. The shorthanded Wizards watched helplessly as the Miami Big Three made a late-game deficit evaporate, snatching away a 95-94 win on the Wizards’ home floor after trailing by four with just 18.4 seconds remaining.
“That shows you the resourcefulness of Miami right now,” Carlisle explained. “They just were able to find a way. You know, I like the way Washington played them. They were aggressive. They were in an attacking mode all night. But at the very end, when you got three guys like that, you can’t underestimate what they’re capable of doing to you in a short period of time at the end of a game.
“It’s a heck of a challenge for us coming in,” the coach added, “but it’s the kind of challenge that you look forward to.”
The Mavericks also know the importance of getting a victory to start a road-road back-to-back, touching down in Orlando Tuesday for a matchup against the new-look Magic, a team that pulled off two trades over the weekend to bring in the likes of Gilbert Arenas from Washington and Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu from Phoenix.
“Miami and Orlando is gonna be a tough back-to-back no matter what. And I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves because we have to play Miami first…But the biggest thing for us right now is to continue to work at our defense and do everything possible to get ready for the Heat,” Carlisle said.
The Mavericks also look to improve upon their 8-1 road record, starting a three-game stretch away from Big D that will sandwich the Christmas holiday.
“We’re an experienced team,” Carlisle said. “We’ve been in a lot of battles in other buildings. So, our guys know what it’s about. And we don’t take anything for granted. We know that other people’s buildings are always gonna be a challenge."
“Our core group is pretty much all veterans and we take pride in going in other people’s gym and kicking their butt,” Terry said. “And I think that’s the thing about us, it doesn’t matter where we’re at, we’re gonna rise to the challenge. And we feel like every time that we step on the road it’s a new challenge.”
Note: The Mavericks-Heat matchup Monday night will take place at Miami’s American Airlines Arena. The game will tip off at 6:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and nationally on NBA TV.
The Mavericks then travel to Orlando Tuesday night to face off with the Magic, in a showdown that will air locally on TXA 21 at 6 p.m. CT.
After another road game in Oklahoma City on Dec. 27, the Mavericks return to the American Airlines Center for a date with the Toronto Raptors. That game will tip off at 7: 30 p.m. CT. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting the American Airlines Center box office, logging on to Mavs.com or by calling 214-747-MAVS (6287).
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