James: Finals loss to Mavs ‘built me into who I am today’

Dirk Nowitzki won a title with the Mavs against LeBron James, who was then a member of the Heat.

Mark Duncan/AP

The 2011 NBA Finals may have been the lowest point in LeBron James’ career.

Though he’s unable to erase the memories of his underwhelming play in that series, James has turned in spectacular performances against the Mavericks ever since.

The Cleveland Cavaliers hope James can provide another dominant showing Tuesday night when they visit Dallas.

James and the Miami Heat were heavily favored four years ago versus Dallas, and the series began as expected with James scoring 24 in a Game 1 victory. The Mavericks, though, took four of the next five and James’ play was heavily scrutinized.

After averaging 26.0 points through the first three rounds, James was held to 14.0 points per game on 38.6 percent shooting in Games 3-5, and committed six turnovers in Dallas’ championship-clinching Game 6 win. He was 7 for 21 in the fourth quarter for the series.

Dirk Nowitzki, named MVP of the finals, averaged 26.0 points and 9.7 rebounds over the six games.

That disappointment has stuck with James, who has averaged 32.2 points on 63.3 percent shooting while winning all six regular-season meetings with the Mavericks since.

"It brings back memories for sure," James said. "Memories that I try to forget, that I will probably never be able to forget. But it’s built me into who I am today."

James hasn’t played against Dallas as a member of the Cavaliers in more than five years, however. He sat out a 109-90 home loss to the Mavericks on Jan. 4 due to knee and back soreness as Dallas shot 56.4 percent. Kyrie Irving was held to a season-low six points before leaving in the third quarter with an injury, while Kevin Love scored 30.

The Cavaliers (40-25) likely needed some rest after beating Phoenix 89-79 on Saturday to go 3-1 in a five-day stretch. James, in particular, seemed to be showing signs of fatigue, shooting 11 for 29 and committing 13 turnovers in his last two games.

Cleveland relished the rare opportunity to practice Monday, however.

"We came in and got great work in," said James, who tied Mark Price for the franchise assists record with 4,206. " … We have no room to waste an opportunity and today we didn’t do that. We got better, so this is great for us."

Nowitzki is stuck in a rough stretch for the Mavericks (41-24), averaging 12.8 points on 39.9 percent shooting over his last 11 games. Monta Ellis had been struggling too, scoring 12.5 per game and shooting 27.5 percent during a four-game span before scoring 31 in a 100-93 road win over the Lakers on Sunday.

Dallas had lost four of five while scoring 89 or fewer three times before Ellis’ big night.

"Sometimes I can be my own enemy when I go to the basket and don’t get the foul. Then I get frustrated and lose my game a little bit," said Ellis, who was 5 of 7 from 3-point range after going 5 for 32 in his previous 11. "Tonight the biggest thing for me was just to get back to being aggressive – and if they call it, they call it. If they don’t, I continue to attack."

The Mavericks have won 11 of the last 13 meetings in Dallas.