Take five on comparisons
It’s different than ’06 for Heat, Mavs
MIAMI — In the five years since the Miami Heat overcame an 0-2 deficit and 13-point hole in the fourth quarter of Game 3 to stun the Dallas Mavericks, and go on to win the NBA title, both organizations have undergone overhauls — in a sense.
The Heat attempted to repeat as champions in 2007 with an aging roster that included Shaquille O’Neal, Antoine Walker, Jason Williams, Alonzo Mourning, and Dwyane Wade, but they lost in the first round. Team president Pat Riley then decided to completely rebuild around Wade and the Heat won just 15 games two years after their title.
Their ascent since then had been gradual, until Riley last summer pursued LeBron James and Chris Bosh in free agency to get them to join Wade, who had decided to re-sign.
The pitches worked, but even though the Heat anticipated great success, even they perhaps could not have predicted it would come so quickly. The Heat disposed of the Celtics and Bulls in five games each, and James’s projection of eventually winning eight NBA titles now doesn’t seem as ridiculous. While Miami was expected to immediately emerge as an Eastern Conference power, few picked it to reach the Finals in the first year of this unusual experiment.
As for the Mavericks, they have won at least 50 games in each of the five seasons since their Finals collapse. Owner Mark Cuban has little patience for rebuilding, instead choosing to sign veterans to team with superstar Dirk Nowitzki. This season, the Mavericks finally were able to overcome the rival Lakers while the top-seeded Spurs melted against the younger Grizzlies.
Like the Heat, the Mavericks’ return to the Finals was no sure thing, and the rematch conjures memories of that 2006 meeting, when the Mavericks looked unbeatable through two games, only to allow Wade to control the rest of the series.
The Heat were a juggernaut after acquiring O’Neal before the 2004-05 season, a group of seasoned veterans prepared to sacrifice for the sake of winning and led by a splendid shooting guard in Wade who soared to stardom by averaging 28.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 5.7 assists in 23 postseason games in ’06.
“I am five years older, so obviously I’m not as fast and athletic as I was then,’’ Wade said yesterday after the Heat’s practice at AmericanAirlines Arena. “But [this season] we knew we had a chance to come together and do something special with new guys. This is a completely different team.’’
Wade and Udonis Haslem are the lone players remaining from the 2006 team. And their primary assignment, as it was five years ago, will be to contain Nowitzki, who has been the most valuable player of the playoffs so far.
A 32-year-old Nowitzki is tougher, more rugged, more savvy, and more polished than in 2006. He is averaging 28.4 points and 7.5 rebounds in 15 games in these playoffs.
“I think Dirk’s a better player and there’s so many differences from that situation and this one,’’ Haslem said. “You know it kind of crosses my mind but it really doesn’t carry much weight because [Dallas is] such a different team, a better team, a resilient team, a tougher team. A lot has changed since then.’’
The Mavericks are constructed like the Heat of 2006, with a crew of former All-Stars and 30-somethings who have meshed for a sparkling postseason run through the Trail Blazers, the Lakers, and the Thunder. Jason Kidd, still a high-level point guard at age 38, joins Jason Terry, the lone holdover from the 2006 team besides Nowitzki, along with a rejuvenated Shawn Marion and shot-blocking center Tyson Chandler.
And perhaps one of Celtics president Danny Ainge’s biggest regrets was not going harder after free agent Peja Stojakovic, who has drained a whopping 29 3-pointers in just 324 playoff minutes.
“They move the ball really well, it’s not going to be easy,’’ Haslem said. “Everybody has to be on a string defensively and they have great shooters as well.’’
Nowitzki appears determined to exorcise the demons from that previous Finals, in which the Heat limited him to 22.8 points per game and 39 percent shooting. Haslem said the 2006 Nowitzki and the one who takes the court tomorrow night for Game 1 should not be compared.
“He’s so much more advanced than he was in ’06,’’ Haslem said. “I don’t think any of that stuff really comes to play in this series. I’ve got a whole different mind-set and a whole different approach for this series than I did in that one. If anything, the ’06 series has made Dirk a better player. And it’s obvious now. People have tried to use some of the same things we did in that series and he’s torched them. His post game has come along a lot since then.
“You really can’t be physical with him, he’s taking on the contact a lot more than he was then. A lot of those tactics we used in ’06 we’re probably not going to be able to get away with. We have to come at him a whole different way if we plan to stop him.’’
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com.