NBA Finals: Bring on the Heat
By Jaime Aron
DALLAS ó Back in the NBA finals, back to trying to beat the Miami Heat.
Pretty wild how things have worked out for the Dallas Mavericks, isnít it?
ěIt doesnít really matter that much to me,î Dirk Nowitzki said Friday.
ěNo thought whatsoever,î echoed Jason Terry.
Oh, well. So much for the story line of the 2011 Mavs seeking redemption for 2006. If the only two holdovers donít care, nobody else should.
The message Nowitzki and Terry are sending is this club is focused on beating whatever team the NBA playoff bracket throws their way.
Theyíve already gone through LaMarcus Aldridge and the Trail Blazers, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and the Lakers and Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder. So, for their final act, they might as well get the team everyoneís been talking about since last summer ó LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and a Miami franchise that coincidentally was the club that got in Dallasí way five years ago.
Nowitzki emphasized another point: This isnít about the Heat and what they do. Itís about the Mavericks continuing to do the things that have helped them win 10 of their last 11 playoff games, including five straight on the road.
ěWe just got to go for it and do the things that got us here ó aggressive defense, rebound the ball and ball movement on the offensive end of the floor,î he said.
The Mavericks locked up their second trip to the finals on Wednesday night. The next night, the Heat wrapped up their second trip to the finals, setting up the ë06 rematch starting Tuesday in Miami.
Terry is an emotional player who fires himself up by sleeping in the other teamís uniform shorts the night before every game. So, at the very least, when he saw the Heat wrap up the East title, he probably let out a, ěHere we go again,î with either a smile or a frown to indicate how he felt about it.
But he also explained why itís so easy to be dispassionate about this.
ěOnly two people on this team are still playing, Dirk and I,î he said. ěFor them, itís Wade and (Udonis) Haslem. Itís really not the same situation.î
Clearly, heís done his homework, proving he has given some thought to this being a rematch.
ěThen, for us, I (was) the point guard. Look whoís the point guard now!î Terry said, laughing. ěBig difference.î
Yes, Jason Kidd is an upgrade from Terry, who is better suited for his role as a scorer, specifically the instant-offense guy off the bench. Mavs fans also might chuckle about Dallasí starting center in ë06, Erick Dampier, now playing for Miami. Heís yet to play this postseason.
In 2006, Dallas won the first two games at home, then went to Miami and melted down. They blew a big lead in the fourth quarter of Game 3 and never recovered. Pat Riley of the Heat not only outcoached Avery Johnson of the Mavericks, Johnson may have outsmarted himself by moving hotels midway through their stay in Florida, fearing that South Beach was too much of a distraction.
Johnsonís successor, Rick Carlisle, isnít concerned about it being an issue this time.
ěNot with our curfew,î he said, offering a rare giggle.
With Kidd and Nowitzki vs. James and Wade, each team starts two players who are among the best of their generation. The clubs have a lot more in common: both 12-3 this postseason, both closing out the conference finals in five games.
In the regular season, the Mavs and Heat tied for the most road wins. There was only a one-game difference in overall wins ó 58 for Miami, 57 for Dallas; thatís why the series is starting on the Heatís court. Had they had the same record, the Mavericks wouldíve had the edge because they won both head-to-head meetings.
Because those games were in November and December, Carlisle insists they donít matter. Still, itís worth noting those were Miamiís only two losses in a 24-2 stretch that proved to everyone this experiment of superstars who are good friends teaming up to win a title just might work.
The backlash from that pairing ó and the way ěThe Decisionî was handled last summer ó produced a huge group of Heat haters. Those folks are now Mavs lovers, a cuddly acceptance thatís unusual for this franchise.
ěThereís no good guys, bad guys,î Nowitzki said. ěThereís two good teams that made it to this stage and both want to win. So Iím not really worried about all that stuff.î
Nowitzki was a free agent last summer, too. Teams didnít pursue him because they were so sure he would remain in Dallas. But he admitted he would have listened had James and Wade invited him to be part of what they were putting together.
ěBut they didnít, so it wasnít really an option,î he said.