Miami Heat vs. Dallas Mavericks: Preview, Analysis and Predictions

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Miami Heat vs. Dallas Mavericks: Preview, Analysis and Predictions
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

In a rematch of the 2011 NBA Finals, the Miami Heat travel to the American Airlines Center on Thursday to face the Dallas Mavericks in this nationally televised contest.

Miami has won two straight and four of its past five. Coach Erik Spoelstra's team has rediscovered its winning ways thanks to a renewed focus on the defensive end. After allowing 100-plus points in six of their first nine games in 2012-13, the Heat have held opponents under the century mark in six of their past eight contests.

Dallas snapped its three-game losing with a 107-100 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday night. The Mavericks continue to miss their superstar, Dirk Nowitzki, and have struggled in close games. Dallas is 0-4 in overtime games this season and just 2-4 in games decided by four points or less.

These teams squared off twice last season. Miami won both games by an average margin of 16 points.

 

Time: Thursday, December 20, 9:30 p.m. ET

TV: TNT

Records: Miami Heat (16-6), Dallas Mavericks (12-13)

Betting Line: Heat -4.5 (according to Vegas Insider Consensus)

 

Injuries (via CBSSports.com)

Heat

None reported

Mavericks

Elton Brand (groin), questionable

Derek Fisher (knee), questionable

Dirk Nowitzki (knee), out

 

Key Matchup

Dwyane Wade, SG, Heat vs O.J. Mayo, SG, Mavericks

The Heat were able to break their championship barrier in 2012 thanks in no small part for Wade's decision to give the keys to the franchise to LeBron James.

But that doesn't mean that the 30-year-old has faded into oblivion.

He's still an elite NBA talent, capable of shouldering the scoring loads on those rare passive nights from James. Despite taking the second-fewest shots since his rookie season (16.1 per game), he's established a new career high in field-goal percentage (51.1).

And he's just as productive when he's not finding buckets. He rebounds (3.7 per game), defends (1.3 steals per game) and shares the basketball (4.4 assists per game).

The chemistry between Wade and James is evident every time this duo takes the floor.

And it's always good for at one least one are-you-kidding-me play.

Mayo, meanwhile, has defined this season as the year of surprises.

For starters, he went from Nowitzki's sidekick to the key cog in the offense when the former MVP underwent knee surgery in October. Nowitzki has yet to make his 2012-13 debut.

Since that time, Mayo has emerged as an unlikely team leader. He was a complementary piece during his five seasons in Memphis, eventually transitioning to a sixth man role. But he's been the best player on the Mavericks roster to date (20.6 points per game), and he's kept this team in contention.

But there's been no bigger surprise for the former one-and-done USC Trojan than his perimeter prowess. He's always been an above-average three-point shooter (38.8 percent for his career), but he's never shown anything like this.

His 51.9 three-point percentage is the NBA's best mark, more than four percentage points higher than anyone with at least 50 attempts.

Given the limited contributions from the Dallas supporting cast, the Mavericks could be far worse than they are. And they have no one to thank more for that fact than the sweet-shooting stroke of the first-year Maverick:

 

X-Factors

Chris Bosh, C, Heat

Here's how impressive Bosh has looked this season—he's the starting center for the worst rebounding team in the league and he's still fourth in All-Star voting among Eastern Conference bigs.

While he can't be given a complete free pass for those rebounding woes (Miami averages just 38.2 rebounds per game), he has to be given credit for his offensive and defensive production.

Miami leads the league with a 49.5 field-goal percentage, and no one on the team has shot it better than Bosh (54.7 percent). He's a better post scorer than advertised, and his ability to consistently hit mid-range jumpers opens up the floor for Miami's penetration.

Defensively, Bosh has anchored the interior. He's matched his career average with 1.4 blocks per game, and his agility thwarts opponents' drives.

The 6'11", 235-pounder will have his hands full defending Dallas center Chris Kaman (7'0", 265 pounds). Kaman is a major part of the Mavericks' offensive attack and he's been their second-most reliable scorer (14.3 points per game).

Miami is hoping that Bosh's offensive skills won't just cancel out Kaman's production, but that they will give the Heat a clear advantage on the post.

Bosh certainly has the offensive tools to do just that. 

Shawn Marion, PF, Mavericks

The 34-year-old Marion gives Dallas the kind of versatility that Miami has constructed its roster around.

Despite his unorthodox shooting form, he can find buckets from inside (50.3 field-goal percentage) and out (33.3 three-point percentage).

But Marion's the obvious choice for the X-factor here due to his defensive ability and assumed assignments.

Coach Rick Carlisle will likely lean on Marion to defend a variety of Heat players. Assuming Udonis Haslem gets the starting nod at power forward (something he's been given in four of Miami's past five games), Marion will open the game on a high-energy, physical player.

But that assignment may change to a perimeter threat (Miami has too many to mention) and likely will include some head-to-head battles with James.

However, Marion has the defensive chops to hold his ground against anything Spoelstra's Heat throw his way.

Depth Charts

Heat

Courtesy of espn.com.
 

Mavericks

Courtesy of espn.com.

 

Prediction

Heat 108, Mavericks 99

Miami's biggest problem (rebounding) isn't a Dallas strength. The Mavericks' weakness (turnovers, 15.7 per game), meanwhile, plays right into the Heat's hands.

The Heat continue to improve in the half court, but this team's still at its best when they can get out in the open floor. Carlisle's revolving door at the point guard position may take another turn if Fisher's unable to give it a go.

Dallas will need multiple scorers to draw attention away from Mayo, something they've struggled to find all season long. Given Miami's wealth of talented individual defenders, this doesn't look like the game where the Mavericks' supporting cast will discover their production.

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