Return to Miami not a sentimental trip for Mavs

Published Mar. 29, 2012 10:52 a.m. ET

The last time the Dallas Mavericks were in Miami, a $90,000 bottle of champagne was drained like it was Evian. As the final seconds ticked away in Game 6 of the 2011 NBA Finals, Mavs star Dirk Nowitzki hopped over the scorer's table on his way to the locker room to have a good cry.

At least six or seven celebrations later, the Mavs return to the scene of their proudest moment Thursday.

Nothing that happens against the Miami Heat (35-13) will erase any of those championship memories, but a win for the Mavs (29-22) would be a huge confident boost down the stretch. Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle has an unsentimental approach to this game following back-to-back victories over the scrappy Houston Rockets. In fact, he's drawing on a painful memory for inspiration — a 105-94 home loss to Miami on Dec. 25.

"We've got to think back to Christmas Day because that was a miserable experience for us," Carlisle said. "That was really tough. I was watching some of it. They were great that day, and we weren't. So, we're going to have to play a lot better."

A lot has changed for the Mavs since that day, some for the better. A 2007 lottery pick out of North Carolina named Brandan Wright has emerged as a key contributor off the bench. In fact, the 6-foot-10 jumping jack has taken up some of the slack created by Lamar Odom's lack of interest in basketball this season. Odom showed signs of life Tuesday in a home victory over the Rockets, but Carlisle's smart enough not to be swayed by one game.

Another positive is the play of guard Roddy Beaubois in recent weeks. He was so good against the Rockets that Carlisle was able to rest Jason Kidd for much of the evening. With the impending returns of Brendan Haywood and Delonte West from injuries, the Mavs should soon be at full strength for the first time in two months. So pardon them for not taking a trip down memory lane in South Florida.

The talk of a "repeat" faded as soon as Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson were allowed to walk in free agency. Dallas is simply trying to hold onto a playoff spot at this point and then catch fire in the playoffs again.

The Heat have lost consecutive games to the Oklahoma City Thunder and Indiana Pacers. LeBron James has been well under his season scoring average in those games, and Miami's in danger of losing three straight for the first time since January. The Mavs don't want to give them extra incentive for a breakout game, which is probably why most of them won't be wearing their championship rings Thursday. Even the purveyor of tight T-shirts, Mark Cuban, told reporters Tuesday that he doesn't want to be "that guy."

Nowitzki said he has worn his ring only a couple times, including a trip to the symphony when he said he needed some "swag." In fact, Nowitzki was more interested in talking about the Mavs' 2006 NBA Finals collapse against the Heat.

"We'd have loved to have won in '06, but I don't know if that would have helped us win in '11," he said Tuesday. "Sometimes, you've got to go through bad stretches and disappointments to come out on top."

Not surprisingly, Jason "Jet" Terry was the one Mavs player who said he "definitely" would wear his ring Thursday in Miami. You'll recall that he's the player who showed up with a Larry O'Brien trophy tattoo before the series. This is not a man prone to understatement.

"Every time we went on the court, I wish it was in Miami. That's how I felt until we got that off our back," Terry said, regarding the '06 series. "You go in the locker room, and their ball boys have their rings on. For me, yeah, we got one, but we should have two. That's how I look at it."

But the Mavs must focus on the present in order to build momentum for the playoffs. Dallas trails the Clippers by half a game for the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference. And the Clippers, who blew out the Suns on Wednesday, arrive in Dallas on Monday.

The Mavs have a lifetime to think about Game 6 in Miami. But as we saw on Christmas Day, that won't help them in the present.