Heat vs. Mavs: 5 Reasons the Heat Are Better Now Than in Last Year's Finals
Heat vs. Mavs. It's now a classic matchup, thanks to two memorable Finals clashes in six years. Even more so now with the revenge subplot amplified by the magnitude of LeBron James' all-consuming hunt for a ring.
So as the Mavs and Heat get ready to lock horns yet again tonight, it bears noting that the Heat have improved in some respects since their six-game dance of death, and Dallas can expect fewer cracks to exploit this time around.
The Christmas game? A toss-out, as the Mavs were too out of shape for it to provide any insight on their current matchup. Now that we're on the record, here's how Miami will make things harder than the Mavs remember...
1. Added Experience
First and most obvious, the Heat roster has the benefit of more time spent together to build stronger chemistry on the floor. They've seen all kinds of ups and downs, and the team bond has particularly grown from going through what they did in the Finals and the offseason.
Aside from the question of raw performance, the whole team's skin has had more time to thicken against the harsh national feedback from all the people they insult with their bullyish attitude.
This in turn enables them to play the bully even more convincingly. No matter how small the increment, they are a step above the team Dallas remembers on experience alone.
It's a trite concept, but only because it's inescapable: unless you're an older team, time generally brings progress.
One more talented wing player can't possibly hurt, especially not one as low-profile (while remaining as effective) as Shane Battier.
Finally, LeBron and Wade are not the only quality perimeter defenders on this team, and thus the pressure on them is very much reduced.The defensive margin of error is consequently widened, and mistakes cut down.
Battier is as savvy as the Big Two are gifted athletically, and he never fails to make himself useful—on both ends of the floor—in ways not recorded statistically. On a somewhat lesser note, he also brings one more serviceable cog to the Heat's scoring unit.
Although some maintain that Miami neglected more pressing needs in picking up Battier, his contribution on the wing as well as in the locker room is not to be marginalized. Perhaps most importantly, he does something few other additions could have, which is raise the team's IQ.
3. LeBron Is Himself
Another no-brainer: LeBron circa last June (and May 2010) doesn't hold a candle to his more frequent incarnation, the most dangerous talent in the world. Of all possible samples for comparison, this season (i.e. LBJ's most efficient yet) is the farthest removed from what has to be considered his all-time low.
Until we actually see it happen again, it's a safe bet that LeBron's impression of the computer world's blue screen of death was too singularly weird to keep happening on cue.
And, even if it does... that's a June thing. LeBron James is the king of the regular season, so as far as Dallas can tell, they're about to face the guy everybody in the league fears, not the guy they mentally castrated on the way to their first title.
There is no higher pressure for LeBron to cave to at the moment, so there's no reason for him not to be his usual freakish self.
4. Not Quite as Vulnerable Under the Basket
Let's be clear before moving on: the Heat's pivot rotation is still miles from striking fear in anyone's heart. And yet, they've made a few strides since the end of 2010-11.
Among other things, they've free up the minutes formerly used (wasted?) on Erick Dampier, which in itself is a step up.
Joel Anthony is one year older, and though his edges are still very rough, he's only getting more savvy in his role as the team garbageman.
The addition of Ronny Turiaf is a bit of a question mark at the moment, but you won't find anybody who'd call him a downgrade over last season.
If he can regain the form on which he built his reputation as an intensity guy and defensive roadblock—remember, he blocked over two shots per game a few years ago—he could relieve some major pressure underneath.
5. Added Chip on Their Shoulder
The longer the Heat go without the championship they need to make themselves whole, the more embittered (read: mad) they're likely to get.
The madder they get, the harder they will go at the throats of whomever they run into on the way to this year's Finals. The threat of embarrassment simply keeps growing as people cast more doubt on their title chances—as does the drive to show up the world.
Last June, they were a heedlessly cocky bunch with no concept yet of conclusive failure. Not even half-way through the Finals, they smelled championship despite the fact that many X's and O's pointed towards a rocky road ahead.
Now they have some perspective, which will have them playing less carelessly in their next championship series, as well as more urgently.
As far as Dallas' influence, the lessons learned from losing the Finals to them do count for a lot. However, perhaps more important could be the mean streak Miami ostensibly picked up from starting their season watching someone else presented the rings they feel belong to them.