The Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat have already clashed since last year's NBA Finals. They met to launch the season on Christmas Day and the Heat declared this is a new year by winning in a laugher.
The teams will now meet for the second time this season, as Dirk Nowitzki and company venture to South Beach to battle the star-studded Heat, who have lost two straight.
Some may view this as another regular-season game. But it isn't, for numerous reasons.
For one, after last year's epic NBA Finals bout, there will no longer be "just another regular-season game" between these two foes. As long as the cores from these teams remain, there will be a rekindled intensity every time these two squads hit the hardwood.
Secondly, this game matters for both teams.
For Miami, they've lost two straight and have raised some concerns over the past couple weeks. After losing to the Chicago Bulls (who were without MVP Derrick Rose) and getting smoked by the Oklahoma City Thunder, there are serious questions concerning if the Heat can reach the pinnacle of the NBA. Do they have the chemistry to topple the league's other elite teams? Can they consistently succeed playing in the half court?
Beating the defending champion Mavs would help place the Heat back on the right track and quiet some of the concerns (at least for the time being).
For Dallas, believe it or not, they're in the thick of the playoff hunt. If the Mavs falter down the stretch, there's a legitimate chance they'll miss the playoffs. That would be a sad encore after last year's illustrious campaign.
Currently, the 4-9 seeds in the West are only separated by two games, and the 10-12 seeds (Phoenix, Minnesota and Portland) are still knocking on the playoff door.
Therefore, every game is pertinent for the Mavs. What's more, their upcoming schedule is treacherous, as they play nine of their remaining 15 games on the road (they have a 10-14 road record). And some of those games are against formidable opponents, such as Orlando, Memphis, the L.A. Lakers and Chicago.
For the Mavs to stay in proper playoff position, they're going to have to beat some top-tier teams, and that all starts with Miami.
Expect the Mavs and Heat to both bring a playoff-like intensity to this matchup. There's already a rivalry between the clubs and both teams are in need of a statement victory.
So who comes out on top?
This should be a tight game for three quarters, but the Heat should take control in the fourth quarter. While LeBron James may be battered and playing with a dislocated finger, there's no reason to believe the Heat will be greatly hindered. Miami will rally on their home floor and find their way to a needed victory.
While this would be a big win for the Heat, it would be an even bigger win for the Mavs if they could somehow pull out the W. Beating the Heat could spark their stretch run and resurrect the confidence they possessed last year.
But don't count on that. This is a new season and the Heat will amplify this, just as they did on Christmas.