The Heat was back on the court on Tuesday, playing the fifth of a six-game road trip. Factor in the All-Star doldrums and this was supposed to be one of those ugly, mid-season games that would be forgotten as soon as the buzzer sounded.
It may have started out that way but LeBron James was determined it wouldn't end without some excitement and a Heat win.
Miami turned over the ball three times in the first four minutes of the game but eventually settled in behind James' 13 points in the first quarter. The Heat would shoot 60% in the period but only led Dallas by two, despite keeping Dirk Nowitzki mostly in check.
But Dallas started off the second quarter well, getting some bench production from Brandan Wright and Devin Harris (apparently still in the league, since he scored 9 points). Wright (12 points) was particularly effective in spurts, benefitting from running screen-and-rolls with Nowitzki and cutting to the basket for easy dunks (which are probably the bulk of his offense as he hits a ridiculous 69% of all his field goal attempts).
Miami's bench was not really a factor all game with the exception of Chris Andersen. The Birdman, sans mohawk, was good for 18 points including a 3-pointer near the end of the game. Michael Beasley's defensive struggles were evident yet again and Ray Allen was a miserable 0-5 from the floor. Greg Oden's spot in the rotation seems pretty fixed at this point and he chipped in 5 points including a nice "and-1" to give the Heat a 5-point lead.
The third quarter started with Miami up 60-54, a lead that quickly disintegrated. Monta Ellis his 3-of-his-4 made field goals in the period (but missed another nine shots throughout the rest of the game) and Nowitzki did what he's done almost better than everyone in his career. Soon, the Mavericks had built a 6-point lead of their own.
But LeBron had 11 points in the quarter (and was up to 30 for the game) and Chris Bosh's increasingly-dangerous 3-point shot helped pace Miami and the lead was cut to 1 at the start of the fourth quarter.
Dallas seemed to regain momentum and the Heat's rebounding woes were once again a major problem. One defensive series was a disheartening sample of Miami's most-glaring weakness as Dallas was able to get five chances to score (off four offensive rebounds) despite typical strong defense from the Heat. The possession resulted in free throws for the Mavericks.
Vince Carter, the former high-flyer that has reinvented himself in Dallas, capped a Maverick scoring run with a 4-point play, and the Heat were down 3 with 7:47 left to play.
James had seen enough and scored 8 straight points on two 24-foot jumpshots and a ferocious dunk to put Miami up, 100-95.
The run by LeBron totally deflated Dallas. Shots that had been made all game suddenly looked flat. A Nowitzki jumper and layups from Ellis and Shawn Marion all rimmed out and the Heat suddenly rebounded every missed shot.
The game was never really in doubt at that point and Miami would eventually win, 117-106.
Dwyane Wade was 4-of-7 for 13 points and Bosh finished with 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting.
So what has the road trip taught us? Mostly that the laws of nature don't apply to James and he can do whatever he wants. And with a string of three very impressive games, expect the MVP-talk to intensify.
Especially when he goes head-to-head with this season's favorite to win the award, Kevin Durant, in a highly-anticipated game on Thursday in Oklahoma City.