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Heat, Mavericks go opposite directions after last year’s finals

May 4, 2012, 12:09 PM EDT

Nowitzki LeBron James Getty Images

Last June, the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat were the two teams left standing on top of the NBA mountain. They were the two teams that made, it, that advanced to the NBA finals. Dallas, as we all recall, came out on top.

Last July, these two teams started traveling very different paths that lead to where they are right now.

Miami is rolling, up 3-0 in the first round on a Knicks team that was supposed to push them a little. They brought in depth, they’ve modified the system and the players bought into it, and for stretches now they play just suffocating defense. Still, they feel like a Maserati in fourth gear — they could be even more impressive.

Dallas is getting rolled, down 3-0 in the first round to a Thunder team they took out in five games last playoffs. Dallas’ owner Mark Cuban decided to look long term rather than chase a ring with the same cast, and that combined with some bad luck has them on the verge of an embarrassingly quick elimination.

It’s quite a contrast.

And it’s all about decisions made during the summer, while the NBA was locked out and soon after it returned.

Miami’s flaws were exposed in the finals — not enough depth, plus their three big stars — Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade — did not fully mesh. LeBron, in particular, was more passive during the finals and nobody could step into those shoes.

Coach Erick Spoelstra spent the summer coming up with a system that better fit his three stars — pressure defense and transition. If you have the best athletes and the best finishers, put them in positions to do what they do best. The Heat pressure and gamble on defense, they force mistakes because of their athleticism, then they turned those into highlight transition dunks. As the season wore on the Heat strayed from that plan, but they still bring it back in spurts and have done more of that in the playoffs. The Knicks have been overwhelmed when they do.

Miami also added depth — Shane Battier, Norris Cole — and got guys like Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem healthy.

Right now, especially after Derrick Rose’s injury in Chicago, the Heat look like they could steamroll back to the finals.

Dallas will not be facing them.

Mark Cuban made a decision to focus on the long term — he did not bring back Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler, DeShawn Stevenson, J.J. Barea. He did not offer contract extensions to others. The result is a good long-term plan — this summer they will have the free agent money to offer a max deal to Deron Williams (or whoever else they choose). If they can move Shawn Marion, they may be able to bring in another big star.

This was not a strip-it-to-the-bone, move, this was trying to rebuild on the fly. It was a calculated risk.

It hasn’t worked out as planned and now they are paying the price. While Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry are still there, this team does not have the depth or the depth of talent it did last year. Part of that is because of the Lamar Odom meltdown — they made a good gamble they could get the former Laker to come around with them, but he never did. That is a versatile, quality player who could have helped on a lot of fronts.

But it might not have mattered. The Thunder were going to get better. The Lakers have improved, as have the Grizzlies and Clippers. The West was going to be harder to get out of and Dallas took an intentional step back with its eye on the long term. Two years from now we may praise Cuban’s move as visionary — this is the kind of “make a move early rather than late” decision Jerry Buss has been making with the Lakers for years.

But it came with a price — these Mavericks are not as good as last year’s.

They are on an opposite trajectory from the team they knocked off in the finals last year. What a difference one year can make.

  1. patsfanvt - May 4, 2012 at 12:20 PM

    cuban knows what he’s doing

  2. explosionsauce - May 4, 2012 at 12:22 PM

    Could pass on an opportunity to write about lebron could ya Kurt.

  3. cosmicatomic - May 4, 2012 at 12:51 PM

    The Heat have stayed the same. Everybody wants to act like they’ve turned over a new leaf and LeBron is “having fun again” or whatever, but they were damn good up to the Finals last year as well (12-3 playoff record pre-Finals). That being said, they have quite an easy, easy path back to the Finals and there’s NO excuse for Miami not to win it all this year, especially considering the West teams will be beating each other up while Miami coasts through the East.

    As for the Mavs, I think they should have resigned Tyson Chandler and then tried to clear enough room for Deron. Not sure if possible but would have been the best approach if so.

    • diabloryno - May 4, 2012 at 1:06 PM

      No excuse NOT to win it all? I’m pretty sure the Spurs and Thunder fans have a whole lot to say about that.

    • passerby23 - May 4, 2012 at 3:06 PM

      I tend to agree that people forget how the Heat were steamrolling teams last year, disposing of the Celtics and dismantling the Bulls who were supposed to give them more of a run until they hit a hot Dallas team. I do think they are a little better simply because Battier gives Lebron and Wade the luxury of not having to defend elite players all the time, which they didn’t have last year.

      I like the Spurs to win it all. They have all the ingredients to beat the Heat: a lethal point guard, scoring ability, championship experience, team chemistry, homecourt advantage, depth, long wing defenders. I think the Heat will breeze into the Finals again where the Spurs knock them out in 6.

      • dal24la - May 4, 2012 at 8:55 PM

        The Heat have gotten a little better then last year but not much. Depth and chemistry didn’t cost them the title last year, Lebron not showing up to play in the 4th quarter did.

  4. icewatters - May 4, 2012 at 1:22 PM

    Maybe Jason Terry got a broom tatt on his other arm

  5. thekingdave - May 4, 2012 at 1:48 PM

    The Knicks were supposed to push them a little? Really? Says who? Anyone with half a basketball IQ would have been amazed if NYK had squeaked out more than one win. Pretty cool how playing in the Big Apple grossly inflates a teams perception.

    • therealroman - May 4, 2012 at 3:11 PM

      push them a little = competing. i don’t think anyone expected them to win the series, but at least make the Heat work for it a little bit.
      if you look at the way NYK played at the end of the season, they were a pretty decent team. if they stayed healthy, i believe that it would have been harder on Miami to dominate. the situation in new york is super complex, obviously, but after D’Antoni was fired, they showed that they are a decent basketball team. Miami is playing with a level of focus and awesomeness (lebron) that’s gonna be hard to keep up with for any team though

  6. 1972wasalongtimeago - May 4, 2012 at 2:02 PM

    Come on, did anyone really think the Mavs were better than the Heat? They won 4 out of 6 fair and square, but the sun was sure shining brightly on them for those two weeks.

    It was a real tough pill to swallow down here. That loss never should have happened. But it did. And nobody made an excuse. Won with class. Lost with class. Which is more than you can say for most NBA fans around the league. Did you hear the Knicks fans last night? Ridiculous.

  7. truthhurtstoo - May 4, 2012 at 2:24 PM

    the mavs were a fluke last year…. the HEAT are the real deal. Sweep the hapless knickerbockers

  8. larryfitzgerald4mvp - May 4, 2012 at 9:34 PM

    If the Mavs had kept Chandler, i feel like they’d still be competing for the title. Deron Williams isn’t worth giving up a chance to repeat as champions.

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