It has been an odd start to the NBA season, and the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat – who meet Friday night in Texas – are two prime examples.
The Heat were thrashed 144-97 by the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday – the most points Miami have ever conceded in a home game, as Milwaukee set an NBA record with 29 3-point baskets.
However, Miami beat that same Bucks team 119-108 just 24 hours later, to complete an unlikely 58-point turnaround.
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“You want to develop some grit and toughness, and our guys responded. We had a different level of competitiveness,” admitted Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.
Meanwhile, the Mavericks routed the Los Angeles Clippers 124-73 on Sunday, and Dallas’ 77-27 half-time lead was the largest in the NBA’s shot-clock era, which began in 1954-55.
Yet, three nights later, the Mavericks were humbled by the visiting Charlotte Hornets, 118-99.
Mavericks star Luka Doncic will be motivated for Friday’s showdown, as he is 0-4 against the Heat and his Slovenian compatriot Goran Dragic.
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The Heat have beaten Dallas six straight times in the battle between these rivals, although the sides have plenty more history.
The Heat won their first-ever NBA title by beating the Mavericks in the 2006 Finals, before the Mavericks returned the favour in 2011 by beating the Heat to win their only ever NBA title.
The connections between the teams will be even stronger on Friday, as Dallas boasts two former Heat players in Josh Richardson and James Johnson. Elsewhere, Tim Hardaway Jr. is a Miami native and the son of a legendary Heat guard.
Hardaway, who is averaging 14.5 points, and Richardson (13.5 points) are both Mavericks starters, although Richardson has been slowed by a calf injury and scored just four points on 1-for-10 shooting on Wednesday against the Hornets.
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Doncic leads the Mavs in scoring (23.8), rebounding (5.8) and assists (6.3), but he was held to 12 points, five assists and two rebounds by Charlotte, whilst missing all five of his three-point shots.
“It’s clear Luka doesn’t have his rhythm yet,” said Mavs’ coach Rick Carlisle, whose side will not be at full strength until the return of the influential Kristaps Porzingis.
Porzingis remains absent due to a knee injury sustained in August, but he went through his first full workout on Tuesday and is expected to return at some point in January.
The Heat have played the past two games without forward Jimmy Butler, who leads the team in assists (6.0) but is out due to a sprained right ankle, yet Bam Adebayo leads the Heat in scoring (19.0) and rebounding (7.3) while also dishing 5.0 assists per game.
If Butler remains out, Adebayo could be asked to guard Dallas’ key man Doncic, as Butler – a four-time selection to the NBA’s All-Defense second team – would be a natural to try and contain the Slovenian.
However, Adebayo is no stranger to these tough assignments, having battled Milwaukee two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“Bam knows how important he is to us on both ends of the court,” added Spoelstra.
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