Heat-Mavericks Preview

Having beaten the Dallas Mavericks in the 2006 NBA finals, the

Miami Heat aren’t about to complain about their extensive

regular-season failures against Dirk Nowitzki and company.

Even as well as Miami is currently playing, Dwyane Wade’s

absence may mean those struggles are doomed to continue.

The Heat have won five straight games overall – including their

latest without Wade – but they’ll again be without their superstar

Saturday night as they try to compete a 5-0 road swing and avoid a

12th consecutive regular-season loss to the Mavericks.

Dallas (34-21) had won four straight games against Miami (29-27)

heading into the 2006 finals, so it was no surprise when the

Mavericks jumped out to a 2-0 series lead. However, Wade wouldn’t

let his team lose, averaging 39.3 points as the Heat won four

straight games to claim their first championship.

That eight-day stretch now looks like an aberration. The Heat

have lost 11 straight regular-season meetings to Dallas by an

average of 13.8 points, including a 106-93 home defeat Dec. 11.

Wade has missed three of those losses due to injury, and he’ll

be sidelined again on Saturday after straining his left calf

Wednesday during a victory over New Jersey, Miami’s fourth straight

overall.

His teammates didn’t let him down Friday. With Rafer Alston also

sidelined, Michael Beasley scored a career-high 30 points – eight

after regulation – to lift the Heat to a 100-87 double-overtime

victory in Memphis.

“I like seeing that progress,” coach Erik Spoelstra told the

NBA’s official Web site of Beasley. “He’s the 11th youngest player

in the league and everyone expects it to happen right now. But

there’s a growth process. And he knows that with Dwayne out,

there’s going to be more opportunities.”

Miami hasn’t won five straight away from home since a six-game

run during its championship season.

The Mavericks, meanwhile, didn’t look much like title contenders

in either their last game before the All-Star break or their first

game after it, losing by a combined 49 points.

After a few games to adjust a lineup featuring new acquisitions

Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood, though, Dallas is playing well

again. Nowitzki had 28 points and Jason Kidd added 18 with 10

assists in a 107-97 win over Phoenix on Wednesday, then the

Mavericks outscored Orlando 30-16 in the fourth quarter Friday en

route to a come-from-behind 95-85 road victory.

Haywood had 15 points, nine rebounds and two blocks against the

Magic.

“We’re capable of playing good defense and we showed that,”

said Nowitzki, who scored a team-high 23 points. “The guy that

really made this trade work for us is Haywood and he showed why

tonight. He was battling in there.”

Haywood may find life tougher Saturday against Miami center

Jermaine O’Neal, who outscored him 37-8 the last two times they

went head-to-head when Haywood was with Washington.

Butler, who spent the first two seasons of his career in Miami,

has averaged 14.7 points on 34.0 percent shooting in three games

since Dallas acquired him from the Wizards. He scored 16 points

Friday and didn’t commit a turnover after giving it away six times

in his first two games.

Fatigue could be a factor for both teams, as each will be

playing its fourth game in five nights. Miami hasn’t played four in

five nights since March 22-26 – losing by 19 at Chicago to close it

out – while Dallas fell 111-95 at Cleveland on Nov. 28 to finish

its latest four-in-five stretch.

The Mavericks are 7-7 on the second night of back-to-backs this

season, while the Heat are 4-8 with the eight losses coming by an

average of 19.9 points.