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Winderman: 2012 Mavericks are what Heat should have been in 2007

Mar 28, 2012, 12:55 PM EDT

Mavericks forward Marion, guard Kidd, guard Terry and forward Nowitzki stand with the Larry O'Brien Championship trophy before their NBA basketball game in Dallas, Texas Reuters

Heat-Mavericks wasn’t what it was cracked up to be on Christmas Day, and it won’t be on Thursday night either.

At least when cast as an NBA Finals rematch.

Oh, the Heat still start the same lineup they started in Game 6 in the 2011 NBA Finals, the night the Mavericks won the NBA championship at AmericanAirlines Arena, the venue for Thursday’s nationally televised game.

But from the start this season these Mavericks haven’t been those Mavericks. Not even close.

And that, to a degree, pits the rivals in a different sort of competition when it comes to one-hit wonders.

Neither the 2006 Heat (who defeated the Mavericks in those NBA Finals) nor the 2011 Mavericks were expected to win championships. Neither were viewed as potential dynasties once the confetti fell.

But the divergent paths could yet serve as a model for future one-hit wonders when it comes to when to say when.

Despite several shaky moments on the way to that 2006 championship, Pat Riley, known for his organizational loyalty, opted to return with his Heat roster relatively intact, with veterans Antoine Walker, James Posey and Gary Payton brought back. By the midpoint of that season, Walker and Posey were suspended for conditioning issues. By the end of that season, Gary Payton wasn’t merely saving his invectives for the opposition.

Contrast that to the forward-thinking approach of Mark Cuban, who allowed Heat Finals tormentors Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea to depart in free agency, with DeShawn Stevenson also permitted to move on.

What we’re seeing now is what we saw at the end of 2006-07 with the Heat, a defending champion scrambling for playoff seeding. The Heat were swept in the first round in 2007 by the Bulls. The Mavericks, based on their potential opening-round seeding, could be facing the same fate.

But the Mavericks also are flush with potential salary-cap space, Deron Williams-level cap space.

Their championship prospects could wind up on an up-down-up curve.

The Heat post 2006? Not only didn’t they win a playoff game in 2007, but they ended 2007-08 with a league-worst 15-67 record, not to win another playoff series until last season’s run to the Finals, leaving them more up-down-down-down-down-up.

Thursday night, the not-nearly-the-same Mavericks return to AmericanAirlines Arena for the first time since exiting last June with the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

The shine this time isn’t nearly as bright.

But the future might be, something that couldn’t have been said about the post-championship, post-2006 Heat.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at @IraHeatBeat.

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