Ten months on from the greatest night in franchise history, the Dallas Mavericks could be forgiven for savouring the moment yet again when they return to the scene of their coronation as NBA champions.
However this is not the Mavs of 2011. And when they take on the Miami Heat on Thursday night in a repeat of last season’s NBA Finals, Dallas will be focusing primarily on moving towards a place in the play-offs rather than harbouring thoughts of retaining their title.
On Christmas Day, the Heat took their revenge with a 105-94 win after leading by as much as 33 in the fourth quarter. But with LeBron James nursing an injured finger, the current championship favourites are mired in a mini-slump, losing two consecutive games and sustaining a dramatic offensive slump over the past three weeks.
They’re still 20-2 this season at home. But the Mavericks – with Dirk Nowitzki increasing his scoring output since the All Star break – know it is time to make a push. With Miami backed to win by +8, Dallas may have arrived at the right time to demonstrate they will not abdicate their throne without a fight.
Thursday’s other marquee match-up will see the emotional return of long-time Lakers stalwart Derek Fisher to Los Angeles after his recent signing with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Although he has had minimal impact, the veteran guard has seen his new team win four straight games to strengthen their hold on first place in the Western Conference.
It may be coincidence that the Lakers head coach Mike Brown has been clamping down on his stars since Fisher’s departure and amid the drama, his side has won only three of their last five. The Thunder grasped a 100-85 victory when these teams met earlier this season and it’s hard to see them falling below that level second time around. With defensive pride at stake, the Over/Under of a combined 200.5 points in the game might be too high, so back under at 1.91.
Bet of the Day: Back Dallas with +8 points in the handicap market at 1.91