MIAMI — The rivalry died on Christmas Day two years ago.
Before then, the Miami Heat versus the Dallas Mavericks was on the verge of joining other great NBA matchups. They had played twice in the NBA Finals. Both teams were led by superstars considered the best at their position.
And then just like that, the buzz was gone.
The Heat and Mavericks met Friday at AmericanAirlines Arena, but hardly resembled the series from the past.
“It’s different,” Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Different rosters, we’ve gone through that already. That first game we played them on Christmas Day of the lockout year, that was probably the last time it really felt like the Dallas emotions of the Finals.”
One of the league’s best rivalries ended when the Heat spoiled the Mavs’ championship-ring ceremony with a 105-94 victory. Miami led by 32 points entering the fourth quarter before Dallas made it respectable during garbage time.
The game was the Heat’s way of exacting revenge after falling to the Mavericks in the NBA Finals earlier that summer.
“For a non-playoff game, that was as on edge of a team that I’ve been a part of,” recalled forward Shane Battier, then in his first year with the Heat. “Everyone’s hairs were literally standing up on the back of their neck, from the layup line to the final buzzer.”
Added center Chris Bosh, “We were just like some caged dogs. We were ready to get after it and show the league we’re ready for this and everybody better watch out.”
The victory served as the introduction to the Heat’s two-year reign atop the league. It also meant the beginning of Heat-Mavs turning into just another game. The Mavericks broke up the team that featured Jason Terry, Tyson Chandler, Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and DeShawn Stevenson.
The only holdovers are Nowitzki and Shawn Marion. Nowitzki is the lone Mavs players from the team the Heat defeated for the 2005-06 title. Although it would have been ideal for a rematch in the 2012 Finals the following year, the Mavs chose the rebuilding route.
It began with trading Chandler in the offseason before unloading other key components to the championship team.
“You owe it to most of the guys to try to do it again,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said.
“But you don’t know what a team is going through in their salary cap at the time. You don’t know what an individual wants to do, seeing the opportunity to go elsewhere and get money or more years. You just don’t know. But I think from the outside looking in, whenever a team wins a championship, you feel that at least the core of the guys should come back.”
Instead, the Mavs the following year were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Oklahoma City Thunder. They won just 41 games last season, missing the postseason for the first time since the 1999-2000 season.
In contrast, the Heat are attempting to win a third consecutive championship. With the teams going in opposite directions, there are only memories of what once was.
Gone are the days of Stevenson taunting LeBron James. Udonis Haslem jawing in the media with Jason Terry seems like it happened during the VCR era. Wade was still wearing Converse when he put together one of the greatest Finals performances in history against these same Mavericks.
Other great moments in the fading series include James and Wade during interviews mocking Nowitzki for having the flu and Jerry Stackhouse drawing a one-game suspension for a flagrant foul on Shaquille O’Neal.
“I mean, it’s always difficult to chase the same team when they have different teams,” Bosh said. “They have some of the same guys.”
Bosh then paused and said, “well, only one of the same guys.”
“At least when Dirk gets the ball, we’ll still have those same feelings,” Bosh joked. “Just seeing their colors on this court, you remember things. I think we can use some of that as a fuel.”
Like most rivalries, they eventually return. There was nearly a 20-year lull between the epic Los Angeles Lakers-Boston Celtics battles of the 1980s before it resurrected in the 2008 Finals. There is even a little steam gaining when the Heat play the New York Knicks, almost resembling those playoffs series from the early part of the decade.
“It’s still there,” Haslem said. “We won one (title), they won one. Every time we match up against each other, I’m sure they think about the one they took from us and we think about the one they took from us.”