Loss in Dallas strengthened Heat

MIAMI – It was six months ago that the Miami Heat flew out of Dallas with their young season careening out of control. The Heat had been beaten by the Mavericks to fall to 9-8. During a timeout in the loss, LeBron James(notes) bumped Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. Chris Bosh(notes) barked at his teammates. And for 40 minutes after the game, the Heat vented their frustration in a players-only meeting.

It was a night full of drama and angst, and the Heat hardly looked ready to fulfill their championship expectations.

So much for that.

A half-year later, the Heat are in the NBA Finals where they will coincidentally face the Dallas Mavericks. They can now look back at the evening in Dallas as one of the turning points of their season.

“It was good for us to come right in and be baptized by fire, so to speak,” Bosh said. “It sucks in the beginning, but it always helps in the end.”

The Heat entered that Thanksgiving weekend game with little to be thankful for after losing three of their previous four games. They hoped to use the game against the Mavericks as a chance to prove they could beat a team with a winning record. Instead, they were overwhelmed in the second half, imploding along the way. At one point, Bosh and Carlos Arroyo(notes) had words with center Joel Anthony(notes).

“Because of the situations, because we were under the microscope, because we were getting used to all these guys just being ready to play us with these full arenas with these crazy fans and we’re not a team yet, yeah, it was going to happen,” Bosh said. “But when it happens, it’s rough.”

James caused a stir by bumping Spoelstra while walking to the bench during a timeout in the third quarter. James now calls the incident a “non-issue.”

“I knew my communication with the head coach had to be better,” James said. “It was 17 games into the season. It wasn’t as great as it is now, of course, being the first part of the season. So it’s grown. It should grow.”

Spoelstra said he and James can laugh at the tense moment now because it eventually made them closer. Spoelstra said he has since learned that James wants to be coached and held accountable.

“The infamous bump-gate was a good starting moment for LeBron, and it was from that standpoint that we both realized, ‘Hey, this is bizarre, the spotlight and the storylines that are developing with this team.’ This seemed to be a lightning rod for it,” Spoelstra said. “So we understood that we were in this together, and that the only way we’d all figure this out is if we got on the same page and worked together to get it. But we connected a little bit after that moment because we were able to laugh about it and realize the way we were being looked at was a little bit more extreme than probably other people and, certainly, other teams.”

Once Miami’s coaches reached the locker room after that loss in Dallas, they walked away quickly when it became apparent the players were already in a heated discussion. The players said it was an open forum where everyone could vent. Dwyane Wade(notes) said he tried to stress the Heat started 30-20 during their run to the 2006 championship before recovering.

“We had so many high expectations for ourselves,” Wade said. “We weren’t meeting our own expectations. We weren’t playing to our own level. We were getting frustrated within the game and we were a fairly new bunch. At that time it was about getting to understand what our game was and going out there and doing it.

“Our game, obviously, is not where it is now on the defensive end of the floor, and, offensively, we weren’t moving the ball the same. We just took that opportunity to say, ‘Let’s stop the bleeding, and how do we do that?’ ”

The team’s early struggles also made some in the league wonder if Heat president and former coach Pat Riley would take over for Spoelstra. Spoelstra tried to stay away from the speculation.

“There was a new storyline virtually every single day,” Spoelstra said. “And it wasn’t just me. After a couple months we realized we were all the target at some point. So, it was easier for us to band together realizing we are all in this together.”

After the Dallas loss, the Heat went on to win 12 consecutive games before losing to the Mavericks again on Dec. 20. Since that initial loss in Dallas, they finished the regular season 48-17 and have gone 12-3 in the playoffs. Along the way, they added veteran point guard Mike Bibby(notes). Udonis Haslem(notes) and Mike Miller(notes) also returned from injuries.

Which is why James doesn’t think the Mavs can take much insight from their two victories over the Heat, especially the one in Dallas six months ago.

“Totally different team,” James said of his Heat. “It’s a simple as that.”