The Miami Heat have hardly looked like one of the NBA's elite teams in recent games, but they played much better than the Dallas Mavericks when the past two league champions met less than two weeks ago.
As they return home from a lackluster trip Wednesday night, the Heat will try to earn a fourth consecutive win over the struggling Mavericks.
Miami (21-8) endured back-to-back losses for only the second time this season during its four-game trek, falling 109-99 to Detroit on Friday and 104-85 to Milwaukee the next evening. The Heat appeared headed for a third straight defeat Monday when they trailed by double digits late in the third quarter against an injury-plagued Orlando team, but they rallied for a 112-110 overtime win.
"This is a winning league," LeBron James said. "It's not about how close you came to losing or how close you came to winning."
James had 10 of his 36 points in the extra period and finished two rebounds shy of a triple-double. Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade each topped 20 points while Ray Allen added 17 off the bench.
Miami's reserves are averaging just 19.2 points over the last five games, though, after previously contributing 29.8 per contest. The Heat have also allowed three straight opponents to top 100 points, matching their longest such streak this season.
"We can do a lot better. We know that. There's some adjustments we are going to have to make. We have to look at ways we can improve," Bosh said. "Eventually, we will get better. We have to stay with it. Hopefully, we'll turn that corner soon."
The Mavericks (13-19) are hoping they're close to doing the same after snapping a six-game losing streak with a 103-94 win at league-worst Washington on Tuesday, although they had to rally from an early 14-point deficit.
Vince Carter scored a team-best 23 points in his second start this season while Dirk Nowitzki reached double figures for the first time in five games since returning from offseason knee surgery. Nowitzki had 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting after averaging 7.5 and making 11 of 34 shots (32.4 percent) in his previous four contests.
Dallas had lost by an average margin of 19.1 points during its skid, which began with a 110-95 home loss to Miami on Dec. 20.
"The locker room is miserable. The coaches are miserable when we lose, so it definitely is one we wanted to get," Nowitzki said Tuesday. "Losing is not something we're used to in this franchise, in this organization."
Nowitzki, the NBA finals MVP in Dallas' six-game victory over Miami in 2011, has scored 20 or more points in each of his last 20 games against the Heat, including the postseason. Last season's finals and league MVP, meanwhile, has a streak of his own going.
James has scored at least 20 points in all 29 games of 2012-13, the second-longest such run to open a season since the NBA-ABA merger. He had 24 on 9-of-13 shooting in Dallas last month.
With Nowitzki sitting out, no Mavericks starter had more than 12 points in that loss and rookie Jae Crowder had a team-best 15. Nowitzki scored 25 points in Dallas' most recent visit to Miami on March 29, but none of his teammates had more than 12 in a 106-85 defeat.