HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Normally, we’d spend this time before tonight’s Mavericks-Heat game reflecting on the hand-to-hand combat the teams waged in The Finals last year and all of the tactical drama that could go on in this much-anticipated rematch.
But instead of reflecting, we’re left to examine the drama surrounding the slumping Heat and particularly wounded star LeBron James. A team loses two straight games by a combined 31 points and its catalyst is struggling with a busted finger, aching elbow and that soreness in his neck.
As crazy as it sounds, the Heat are in a position where they have to prove to their legions of doubters (haters or whatever else you want to call them) that they are tougher than it appears. They have to prove they can bounce back from adversity and from this mini-tailspin that has folks wondering if this is a momentary slip or something more significant.
Miami and Dallas are each 6-4 in its last 10 games, but the Mavericks come into tonight’s showdown in Miami (8 p.m. ET, TNT) having won two straight games and free from the over-the-top scrutiny that accompanies the Heat’s every move.
Interestingly enough, these two teams have a way of finding each other at times like this, as Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel pointed out:
Whether it’s winning the 2006 NBA Finals, falling in the 2011 championship series, or snapping a seven-year regular-season losing streak to the Mavericks with a Christmas Day victory in this season’s opener, Dallas has a way of getting the Heat’s attention.
But Thursday at AmericanAirlines Arena, even with Mark Cuban courtside and Finals tormentors Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Shawn Marion on the court, introspection will be the order of the night.
“At this point, it doesn’t matter,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after Wednesday’s practice at AmericanAirlines Arena of arguably the Heat’s biggest interconference rival arriving in town. “We have to be consumed about our play and how we need to play.”
… “You watch our Christmas Day game compared to the last two games, of the force and pace that we played with that day, it’s night-and-day different,” Spoelstra said. “We can control that. We respect the Dallas Mavericks obviously from last year . . . but right now, out of due respect, it’s about us, it’s about getting to our game, our identity.”
We love that the Heat’s focus is on the team in the mirror and not the guys on the other side of the floor.
While we’re not convinced that the Heat need to retreat to South Beach for a weekend of soul-searching just because they’ve lost a couple of games and stumbled a bit, there is no doubt that tonight’s game will serve as a statement-making opportunity for them against a team that poked holes in their aura of invincibility during the The Finals.
That Christmas Day win didn’t satisfy all of our curiosities about what each team learned from their battle on the big stage in the postseason. The Mavericks were still in (admitted) full-blown championship hangover mode, which took some of the luster off of that meeting for us.
Fair or not, tonight’s matchup once again seems to be all about the Heat.