Heat-Mavericks Preview

As if the Miami Heat weren’t motivated enough to win it all,
their season begins by having to watch the title banner get raised
by the team that beat them to claim it.

The lockout is over and Christmas is here, so it’s time for
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to kick off the Heat’s quest to
dethrone the Dallas Mavericks as NBA champions with an NBA finals
rematch.

Before the game gets underway in Dallas, the Mavericks’
championship banner will be raised to the rafters at American
Airlines Center. However, it seems the Mavs are a virtual
afterthought as the season begins. Most oddsmakers do not have them
among the top few picks to win the 2012 title, whereas Miami is
generally the odds-on favorite.

“We didn’t come together to make the playoffs or come together
to win a playoff series, we came together to win the NBA finals and
that’s what it’s about,” said James, whose 23.7 scoring average in
the 2011 playoffs was 3.0 below his regular-season mark. “We know
how long of a journey it was to get there, so we know what it takes
to get there. We just try to have a better result if we happen to
get back to that point.”

Dallas (57-25) knocked off the Heat in six games in the
championship round, spoiling the first season of James and Chris
Bosh joining Wade in Miami (58-24). The Heat didn’t make any major
changes this offseason other than adding Shane Battier, but are
hopeful another year of their superstar trio playing together will
be enough to get James and Bosh their first rings and a second for
Wade.

“For us, getting better is not necessarily going to show in our
numbers,” said Wade, who scored 25.5 per game last season. “It’s
going to show in our leadership. It’s going to show in those
moments where we get in those games like the finals where we’re up
10 in the fourth quarter, how do we help our team get that win no
matter what’s going on in the game.”

That’s what Dirk Nowitzki and company did in last season’s
playoffs when they stunned the Los Angeles Lakers in a second-round
sweep before beating Oklahoma City in the conference finals and
knocking off the Heat.

Nowitzki turned 33 this summer and most of the Mavs’ top players
are in their 30s, plus Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler and J.J. Barea
have all departed. Those are big reasons many aren’t picking them
to repeat as champions.

“We weren’t the favorites to win it last year, so nobody really
knows what’s going to happen,” said Nowitzki, the finals MVP after
averaging 26.0 points – 3.0 above a season average that was his
lowest in seven years.

“Last year, it just worked out. The chemistry was great, guys
wanted to win and play with each other. To me, the team is set up
kind of the same again with a bunch of older guys that want to
win.”

One of those guys is Lamar Odom, who may have newfound
motivation after his surprising departure from the Lakers. He
didn’t realize they were trying to get rid of him until being part
of the Chris Paul deal that never went through, then felt further
disrespected when he went to Dallas in a trade that involved no
other players.

The reigning Sixth Man of the Year may play a key role – as
could newcomer Vince Carter – for a team needing to make up for the
loss of Chandler’s defense and rebounding, Barea’s spark off the
bench and Butler’s scoring. Odom, who averaged 14.4 points and 8.7
rebounds last season, does bring the experience of having won
back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010.

“If they thought winning a championship was hard, defending it
is going to be … it’s tough,” Odom said. “It changes the mindset
of teams, and of your team. It’s tough. But if a team can do it,
this one can.”

Miami was expected to win multiple championships when its trio
of stars came together but doubts will continue to linger until it
wins one. The Heat surely are expecting to get off to a better
start after opening 9-8 last season.

Battier should be a big help defensively and in 3-point
shooting, but Miami is still considered fairly weak at point guard
– Mario Chalmers should get the bulk of those minutes – and in the
frontcourt other than Bosh.

Coach Erik Spoelstra, who received a contract extension during
the offseason, feels the James-Wade partnership – and growing bond
– should be enough to get the Heat over the top.

“Those guys like to be challenged,” Spoelstra said. “They do not
accept the success that they’ve had and where they are right now.
They’re always trying to push to go to the next level.”