Considering the two franchises have combined for four championships and seven Finals appearances in the past 11 years, it was odd to see the Heat and Mavericks enter Thursday’s game a combined 31 games under .500, Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki said.
“That's how the league goes,” he said, with Miami entering Thursday at 12-30 and Dallas at 14-27.
“You can never take anything for granted. We had basically 50-win seasons for 10, 11 years straight, and then we won the championship and it's been a struggle ever since. We missed the playoffs once, been a bunch of [No.] 7, 8 seeds. It's been a rough rode for us ever since.”
One thing the franchises have in common: Stability. The Heat’s Erik Spoelstra and Dallas’ Rick Carlisle are the second- and third-longest tenured coaches in the NBA, Spoelstra having been promoted to the position in April 2008 and Carlisle in May 2008. (Gregg Popovich is No. 1, having coached the Spurs since December 1996.)
“Coincidentally, Erik and I have been in our situations for almost the exact amount of time,” Carlisle said. “There are ebbs and flows to franchises as time goes along. You have some cyclical things happen but you want to maintain the same culture and… always be looking ahead as well as the present. That's what we're doing and I believe that's probably what they're doing as well.”
What helps, Carlisle said, is ownership – the Heat’s Micky Arison and Dallas’ Mark Cuban. “These guys are two of the best owners in sports history,” Carlisle said. “They know what they're doing.”
Nowitzki said the Mavericks this week stayed in the same Miami hotel that they used when they lost the 2006 Finals and won the 2011 Finals. Both teams won the championship on the other’s home court.
“There are plenty of memories walking in the lobby,” he said.
“Walking in the building, it's tough to forget. Bittersweet. Probably the biggest disappointment of my career in '06, being up 2-0. And then revenge in ‘11, with them being the heavy favorites.”
• Spoelstra said Nowitzki “in his prime forced longer and more coaching meetings around the league, or as much, as any player in the history of the league because he was so unique and you had to have Nowitzki rules.”
But Nowitzki, 38, cracked: “I used to be a tough matchup. Not anymore.”
▪ Nowitzki said Whiteside, who met with the Mavs at the start of free agency on July 1, “deserves to [be in the All-Star Game] as much as anybody in the East at center. It's no secret we wanted him this summer and obviously didn't get him. He's having a great year.
I'm happy for him.”
Coaches will select All-Star Game backups, with an announcement next Thursday, and the Heat’s record won’t help Whiteside or Goran Dragic. Coaches cannot vote for their own players.
Spoelstra, speaking in general and not about Whiteside, said he leans “usually [toward] guys that are impacting winning” and believes most other coaches do, as well. Spoelstra said he has received “a box of things from other organizations” lobbying for All-Star support for their players, but said that doesn’t influence him and the Heat does no such lobbying.
Among Eastern Conference frontcourt players, Whiteside finished 11th in fan voting and 14th in player voting.
▪ Spoelstra said there is no immediate plan to use the $1.3 disabled player’s exception that the Heat was awarded because of Justise Winslow’s shoulder injury, which is expected to sideline him for the remainder of the season.
The Heat can use that exception in a trade for a player with an expiring contract but must release or trade a player to add a player with that exception.
▪ Fox Sports Sun will carry the Jan. 27 Heat-at-Bulls game, which was dropped by ESPN and replaced by Houston-Philadelphia.