The Heat should probably stop telling opponents they’re no longer worthy of rivalry status.
Last week, the Celtics upset the defending back-to-back champions after LeBron James said Boston, with so many new faces, didn’t elicit the same emotions as those teams featuring Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. This week, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra and Chris Bosh said things just weren’t the same anymore between the Heat and Mavericks.
The Mavericks, which played the Heat in the 2006 and 2011 NBA Finals, then took the court Friday night at AmericanAirlines Arena and pushed Miami until the final minute. In the end, it took a 39-point effort by James, which included an imitation of Dirk Nowitzki on a crucial basket, to wrangle the Mavericks and hand the Heat a 110-104 victory.
Before the game, Bosh suggested the Mavericks blew up their 2011 championship team without seriously attempting to defend their title. Afterwards, he offered Dallas a little more respect.
“I don’t care who’s on that team,” Bosh said. “They still have on the same uniform, so any time you have a situation like that, they inherit what you have.”
The Heat led by 13 points in the third quarter but couldn’t put away its old Finals foes. Nowitzki had 28 points, going 8 of 12 from the field, 3 of 5 from three-point range and 9 of 10 from the free-throw line.
A classic step-back jumper by Nowitzki cut the Heat’s lead to 100-99 with 2:29 left in the game, but James answered with a one-legged, step-back jumper of his own to give Miami a three-point cushion. James backed down Monta Ellis before turning and offering his best impression of one of Nowitzki’s off-balance shots.
After Dwyane Wade missed a pair of free throws with 1:25 remaining, which reminded everyone of his free-throw follies against the Celtics, James and Bosh combined to go 8 of 8 from the foul line to put the game away.
“He was tremendous,” Spoelstra said of James. “He has an excellent feel for what we need.”
And of James’ impression of Nowitzki, Spoelstra offered: “That was out of the utmost respect to Dirk Nowitzki.”
James does it all
James has been practicing his Nowitzki-esque jumpers in practice, according to Spoelstra, and just coincidentally waited until the most impactful time possible to try it out. James went 14 of 18 from the field, 1 of 1 from three-point range and 10 of 11 from the free-throw line for his best game of the season. His 39 points were a season high, and he also had six rebounds and five assists.
After complaining of sore legs and a sore back to begin the season, James is returning to his MVP form. The victory against Dallas was James’ third 30-point effort in his past five games, and he has shot at least 60 percent in five of his past six games.
“He has been efficient all year,” Spoelstra said. “I think probably more was made of it than it probably was. He has gone through that every single year. He has felt better, he has been practicing, he has gone through all the shootarounds, and he is going full speed.”
James was 5 of 5 from the field in the third quarter for 11 points.
“He has a tremendous feel for what we need in terms of being aggressive or facilitating,” Spoelstra said.
The Heat (6-3) has scored at least 100 points in each of its first nine games. Miami shot 54.7 percent from the field and entered the game shooting 52.7 percent.
“Guys are getting great shots, and you have to be aggressive when you’re playing this type of offense and it works,” said Bosh, who had 14 points and was 6 of 6 from the free-throw line.
Mario Chalmers was called for a flagrant foul on Nowitzki and, after a video review by officials, was ejected when the foul was upgraded to a Flagrant 2. Chalmers was fined $15,000 for a flagrant foul on Blake Griffin last week.
“It did hurt not having him available, but Norris [Cole] did give us good minutes,” Spoelstra said.
Spoelstra said he was reserving judgment on Chalmers’ foul until he saw a replay. Chalmers appeared to hit Nowitzki in the face trying to run through a screen.
Wade had 17 points, eight assists, eight steals and five rebounds. Rashard Lewis and Michael Beasley each had 11 points off the bench.
Led by James and Wade, the Heat shot 59 percent from the field in the first half.
James and Wade combined to go 12 of 16 in the game’s first two quarters.