DALLAS — Back in the NBA finals, back to trying to beat the Miami Heat.
Pretty wild how things have worked out for the Dallas Mavericks, isn’t it?
“It doesn’t really matter that much to me,” Dirk Nowitzki said Friday.
“No thought whatsoever,” echoed Jason Terry.
Oh, well. So much for the story line of the 2011 Mavs seeking redemption for 2006. If the only two holdovers don’t care, nobody else should.
The message Nowitzki and Terry are sending is this club is focused on beating whatever team the NBA playoff bracket throws their way.
They’ve already gone through LaMarcus Aldridge and the Trail Blazers, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and the Lakers and Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder. So, for their final act, they might as well get the team everyone’s been talking about since last summer — LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and a Miami franchise that coincidentally was the club that got in Dallas’ way five years ago.
Nowitzki emphasized another point: This isn’t about the Heat and what they do. It’s about the Mavericks continuing to do the things that have helped them win 10 of their last 11 playoff games, including five straight on the road.
“We just got to go for it and do the things that got us here — aggressive defense, rebound the ball and ball movement on the offensive end of the floor,” he said.
The Mavericks locked up their second trip to the finals on Wednesday night. The next night, the Heat wrapped up their second trip to the finals, setting up the ’06 rematch starting Tuesday in Miami.
Terry is an emotional player who fires himself up by sleeping in the other team’s uniform shorts the night before every game. So, at the very least, when he saw the Heat wrap up the East title, he probably let out a, “Here we go again,” with either a smile or a frown to indicate how he felt about it.
But he also explained why it’s so easy to be dispassionate about this.
“Only two people on this team are still playing, Dirk and I,” he said. “For them, it’s Wade and (Udonis) Haslem. It’s really not the same situation.”
Clearly, he’s done his homework, proving he has given some thought to this being a rematch.
“Then, for us, I (was) the point guard. Look who’s the point guard now!” Terry said, laughing. “Big difference.”
Yes, Jason Kidd is an upgrade from Terry, who is better suited for his role as a scorer, specifically the instant-offense guy off the bench. Mavs fans also might chuckle about Dallas’ starting center in ’06, Erick Dampier, now playing for Miami. He’s yet to play this postseason.
In 2006, Dallas won the first two games at home, then went to Miami and melted down. They blew a big lead in the fourth quarter of Game 3 and never recovered. Pat Riley of the Heat not only outcoached Avery Johnson of the Mavericks, Johnson may have outsmarted himself by moving hotels midway through their stay in Florida, fearing that South Beach was too much of a distraction.
Johnson’s successor, Rick Carlisle, isn’t concerned about it being an issue this time.
“Not with our curfew,” he said, offering a rare giggle.
With Kidd and Nowitzki vs. James and Wade, each team starts two players who are among the best of their generation. The clubs have a lot more in common: both 12-3 this postseason, both closing out the conference finals in five games.
In the regular season, the Mavs and Heat tied for the most road wins. There was only a one-game difference in overall wins — 58 for Miami, 57 for Dallas; that’s why the series is starting on the Heat’s court. Had they had the same record, the Mavericks would’ve had the edge because they won both head-to-head meetings.
Because those games were in November and December, Carlisle insists they don’t matter. Still, it’s worth noting those were Miami’s only two losses in a 24-2 stretch that proved to everyone this experiment of superstars who are good friends teaming up to win a title just might work.
The backlash from that pairing — and the way “The Decision” was handled last summer — produced a huge group of Heat haters. Those folks are now Mavs lovers, a cuddly acceptance that’s unusual for this franchise.
“There’s no good guys, bad guys,” Nowitzki said. “There’s two good teams that made it to this stage and both want to win. So I’m not really worried about all that stuff.”
Nowitzki was a free agent last summer, too. Teams didn’t pursue him because they were so sure he would remain in Dallas. But he admitted he would have listened had James and Wade invited him to be part of what they were putting together.
“But they didn’t, so it wasn’t really an option,” he said.
For some former MVPs, such a snub would be another reason to hold a grudge against the Heat.
A few weeks shy of turning 33, all he cares about is winning his first championship and the first for his franchise, no matter who it comes against or how.
“I like how we fought through some stuff, some ups and downs through the years,” he said. “It took us a long time to get back here. Hopefully we can make it count.”