Heat visit Dallas for NBA Finals rematch
A rematch of the 2010-11 NBA Finals headlines the league's Christmas Day schedule as Dirk Nowitzki and the world champion Dallas Mavericks welcome LeBron James and Miami back to North Texas.
"The King", of course, took his talents to South Beach in 2010-11, but the Larry O'Brien Trophy felt that The Metroplex would be a better place to take up residency as Dallas upset the Heat in six games during last June's finals.
Last year James went from being one of the most beloved sports figures in the country to one of the most reviled after his now infamous ill-conceived statement on an ESPN hour-long vehicle called "The Decision."
In fact, comedian and talk show host Jimmy Kimmel Tweeted the night the Mavericks disposed of James' Heat to win the franchise's first NBA title: "70 years after WW2, LeBron James has America rooting for the German. Congratulations."
Turns out James didn't like all the negative attention and had an up and down freshman campaign in Miami but the superstar had plenty of opportunities to hush his critics, the last coming during Game 6 of the finals when he disappeared in the fourth quarter as Dirk and the Mavericks closed out the Heat.
For whatever reason James morphed into a shrinking violet in the final frame of Game 4 in Dallas and never recovered. The rabbit ears went up and his game went down. The "NBA insiders" who made getting close to James during the "Summer of LeBron" a cottage industry say he is well aware of all the "negativity" surrounding him these days and doesn't like it.
"I think LeBron is going to get booed more than ever before," NBA TV analyst Chris Webber said. "He doesn't have to accept the villain role, but that's who he is. Hopefully, he knows it's not personal, it's basketball."
Whether its' personal or just basketball, James better get used to the microscope and the pressure. His Heat have been tabbed by most as the favorites to repeat as Eastern Conference champs and capture the King's first NBA title.
But James will finally have to play his best when it counts the most. In fact, winning is the only way for LBJ to fix his fractured reputation. James and his teammates should have plenty of motivation this afternoon they will be forced to watch the Mavs' title banner get raised.
"[Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and I] didn't come together to make the playoffs or come together to win a playoff series, we came together to win the NBA finals and that's what it's about," said James. "We know how long of a journey it was to get there, so we know what it takes to get there. We just [have to] try to have a better result."
Dallas, meanwhile, will try to do it again without veteran contributors like Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea, who signed elsewhere, and Peja Stojakovic, who retired.
On paper the Mavs have actually improved their skill level, bringing in big man Lamar Odom and high-scoring swingman Vince Carter but this is a club that often won 50-plus games and came up short in the postseason until they acquired a few tough-minded defensive players like the now-departed Chandler, Caron Butler and DeShawn Stevenson.
Whether this season results in a "Back to the Future" scenario for Dallas -- an excellent regular season team that doesn't have the mettle to navigate the treacherous postseason waters -- remains to be seen.
"We weren't the favorites to win it last year, so nobody really knows what's going to happen," said Nowitzki. "Last year, it just worked out. The chemistry was great, guys wanted to win and play with each other. To me, the team is set up kind of the same again."
The Mavs have dominated Miami in recent years, sweeping the home-and-home series for seven straight years and winning 14 straight and 17 of 18 overall against the Heat. Miami has also dropped nine consecutive in North Texas.
Dallas is also 2-0 on Christmas Day but this will be the club's first ever home game on the holiday. Miami is 5-2 on Christmas and 3-2 as the visitor.