Fast Breaks: Heat run past Mavs in rematch of last year's NBA Finals
One year later, the Big Three and the Heat appear to be clicking like we expected
Without Tyson Chandler, the Mavericks are in trouble and need of interior defense
Dallas got little out of new additions Lamar Odom, Vince Carter and Delonte West
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Wasn't this what last year was supposed to look like for Miami? You know, when they were supposed to cruise through the season without experiencing a losing streak, set the single-season record for victories and leave a path of devastation along their route to an NBA title? The form Miami showed for most of Sunday's 105-94 rout of defending champion Dallas in Sunday's opener came about a year later than expected, but it was nevertheless chilling to see how much better the Heat looked compared to the retooling defending champs in a rematch of their Finals matchup.
The Mavericks should be very concerned about their decision not to sign center Tyson Chandler to a long-term deal. Dallas was trying to avoid a high-priced, long-term commitment with the new collective bargaining agreement kicking in, but that decision came with the price of seeing Miami control everything inside while the Mavericks' post defenders took the night off. The Heat picked at that weakness from the start, taking 13 of their 24 first-quarter shots in the post and making nine. They never let up. It was a big change from last summer's Finals, when Chandler's physical presence helped Dallas control the boards and turned Miami into a face-up offense that relied on perimeter shooting. But there were no signs of that team on Sunday. Brendan Haywood was a no-show in the starting lineup, going scoreless with three rebounds. And while Odom may be a better passer and playmaker than Chandler, most of the offense he created on Sunday came from the perimeter, where he was 1 of 6. Odom pulled down only four rebounds and got thrown out of the game after mowing down James midway through the third quarter. Dallas never chased Miami out of the paint, where the Heat took 37 of their 78 shot attempts and held a 51-31 rebounding advantage.
Even having Chandler, or every member of last year's team, may not have made a difference for Dallas on Sunday. Despite the lockout and the shortened pre-season, the Heat played with the cool ease of a team whose chemistry is in midseason form -- something they didn't consistently show even late last season. At that time, though, Miami's offense was run mostly through set plays intended to help James, Wade and Bosh play together efficiently after spending their careers as offensive focal points. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra tossed out the set plays for this season and decided to let the Big Three play with more freedom. The Heat made him look brilliant in their debut. Miami put together runs of 21-4 in the first quarter, 17-1 in the second, and 14-0 in the third. By the end of that final run the Heat were humiliating the defending champions to the degree that James deflected a high lob pass down to Wade on a fast-break for an uncontested dunk, capping a run that put Miami up 78-43.
Those offensive pyrotechnics can make it easy to overlook the role Miami's defense played in its dominant performance. The Heat were swarming from the opening possession, souring Vince Carter's debut with a block on his first shot attempt, and finishing with six blocks and nine steals, setting up a 31-10 edge in fast-break points while holding Dallas to 38 percent shooting (31-82). It was a strong statement on opening day, and unlike last year, Miami started the season by making it unequivocally clear that they are the heavy favorites to win the title. On one play in the second quarter, Wade blocked Dirk Nowitzki from behind and led the fast break, passed up to James who then tipped a touch pass back to Bosh for a rim-ripping slam and a 46-27 lead -- the type of explosive playmaking that became routine for much of the night and made Miami look like a team in midseason form.
Dallas knew it was going to have a rough transition while working several new players into the rotation. But while their debuts went over with a thud, the Mavericks should be more concerned about the total meltdown of their defense. Working Vince Carter, Delonte West and Lamar Odom into the rotation is going to take time -- perhaps more than initially expected after the trio combined to go 6 of 19 from the field for 19 points. But Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said before the game that defense would have to carry them until they can develop chemistry with the newcomers. He should be able to expect it. After all, Dallas celebrated a title before Sunday's game that was won on the shoulders of physical defense. But Sunday was an embarrassing effort in every area. Remember all those 3-pointers Miami relied on in the Finals as Dallas' defense pushed them outside? It didn't need them on Sunday with wide driving lanes opening paths to the paint, where Dallas' interior defense vanished. If Miami wasn't making shots at the rim (they were 22 of 37), they were pulling down 15 offensive boards. Haywood had more fouls (four) than rebounds (three), and the Heat shot 57 percent from the field through the first three quarters. It won't be this bad all season, but this was a shameful start.
The numbers won't look particularly impressive, but Heat rookie Norris Cole had some eye-catching moments in his NBA debut that gives the Heat reason to believe it could have an effective bench supporting the Big Three. Cole was 3 of 7 from the field for seven points in 16 minutes, but showed some explosiveness in the open court and the ability to penetrate from the perimeter. Combine those skills with Shane Battier's veteran savvy, Udonis Haslem's instant energy (nine points, 11 rebounds) and James Jones' perimeter shooting (3-for-3 on 3-pointers) and the Heat appear to have the makings of an explosive and versatile second unit.