Commentary

Mavericks wear ID as badge of honor

Week's easiest challenge comes against Heat, who can't seem to find their identity

Updated: November 28, 2010, 5:27 PM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

DALLAS -- When the NBA released the Dallas Mavericks' 2010-11 schedule in August, Thanksgiving week immediately stood out.

Four games in five nights that closed at Oklahoma City, at San Antonio and then the big one, the monster Miami Heat in town for their one barnstorming appearance.

In retrospect, the Mavericks doubled ticket prices for this?

Of the week's four opponents that also included a plucky Detroit Pistons squad, the Mavs had the breeziest time with the so-called SuperFriends -- LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Dallas native Chris Bosh -- and their merry band of minimum-wage Robins.

Tyson Chandler
AP Photo/Mike FuentesTyson Chandler has put up 50 points and grabbed 43 boards in the last three games for Dallas.

Yes, the Heat made a run late to make up for an otherwise swaggerless performance and at least made it interesting, if only temporarily.

A 13-0 run to start the third quarter started a roll in which Dallas was up by 18 with 5:35 to play in the period. It shook up a previously close, but thoroughly unexciting game as the Mavs negated the Heat's late threat to win their fifth in a row, 106-95.

"To go through and win all five like this, you have to be extremely energetic, you have to be deep, you have to have good guys and good players," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "You have to have high energy level and spirit, and we sustained that this week."

The young and embattled Heat coach Erik Spoelstra stood on the sideline with his hands on his hips most of the night and his face blank like a stone template. He probably had the same recurring thought as the sold-out crowd at American Airlines Center: Who are those guys with "Wade" and "James" on the backs of their jerseys, and who stole the real ones?

Exaggeration? After the game, the Heat players shut the locker room doors and aired grievances for a lengthy period of time. Nothing specific was divulged once Wade and James emerged 45 minutes later to take questions, preferring to do so in an interview room rather than the locker room.

Miami is now 9-8, one game worse than last season's record at this point.

They've lost four of five, and the great mystery is why Wade and James are no longer the electric swashbucklers that once commanded their respective teams, dominated the basketball and supplied limitless highlight reels. Wearing the same uniform, the two appear hesitant, at times lost and other times even unhappy.

All that talent on South Beach seems rather ordinary.

Not that the feel-good Mavs (12-4), who finally reached 100 points at home for the first time since the season opener, would swim in those waters.

"Oh, they're good. They're a good team," guard Jason Terry said. "When you have three superstars like they have they are very difficult to defend and they put us in a difficult situation tonight, but we answered the challenge. The only thing we can worry about is our team and the way that we play. Establishing an identity has been the most important thing in this stretch."

[+] EnlargeChris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade
AP Photo/Mike FuentesChris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade got their points against the Mavs but struggled to dominate.

Identity, like chemistry, is one of those catchwords in sports. Successful teams have one. Right now, the Heat don't. The Mavs believe they do or at least are beginning to, in ways that two-time Mavs point guard Jason Kidd said are novel to the franchise.

"When you look back at Dallas' teams, we never were a team that played defense," he said. "We always wanted to outscore the opponent. I looked at the stat sheet [tonight] and saw that we had 87 attempts. That might be a high for the year. We're playing defense, we're getting stops at the right time.

"It's funny to say this, but we just can't get bored. We always have to try to figure out how to keep getting better. If we can do that this can be a special year."

Again, the stats don't lie. Miami shot 41.3 percent from the field and was 5-of-15 from 3-point range. James forced four and missed all of them. He was 5-of-19 overall for 23 points. Wade was 3-of-10 through three quarters, and it often seemed as though his teammates forgot he was on the floor. He heated up in the fourth and threatened to bring back nightmares of June 2006, but his 22-point effort fell short.

Bosh scored 10 of his 22 in the first quarter.

As the Heat begin to fade from fascination to train wreck, the Mavs have become one of the more intriguing storylines in the NBA. They stopped the Thunder's five-game win streak Wednesday and put an end to San Antonio's league-best 12-gamer on Friday.

The last three victories have been complete team efforts. Center Tyson Chandler has put up All-Star-caliber performances. He had 14 points and 17 rebounds Saturday. He has 50 points and 43 rebounds combined in the last three games.

Chandler was one of six Mavs to score in double figures, a rare feat for this club. Dallas received a season-high 23 points from Caron Butler as he finally saw fourth-quarter action and came through with three baskets and seven points.

The 7-foot-1 Chandler agreed with Terry and Kidd that this Thanksgiving week has hatched an identity to build upon.

"I do, I really do," Chandler said. "Early on I think we were trying to find out who we were going to be offensively, find out where guys are going to get shots from. I think now we kind of see where we're going to get our shots from, where we're going to go in the fourth quarter and it's made things a lot easier."

So the Mavs can claim an offensive identity and a defensive identity? The Heat, with all that talent on South Beach, are desperate to find one.

Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

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