Updated: Jan. 21, 2007, 9:33 AM ET

Last June bugs them still

A few questions while awaiting the first meeting of the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks (ABC, Sunday 12:30 p.m. ET) since last season's NBA Finals …

In last year's finals, we remember when Dirk Nowitzki took a pretty good blow from Shaq on a rather unhappy trip to the basket. When you were tutoring him in his first years with the Mavs, did you ever talk about how to handle the rough stuff?

Yes. Two things that we talked about -- when you go into a big shot-blocker, you try to initiate contact. You know you're going to get hit anyway, but it isn't as bad if you initiate the blow. The second thing is: Never let him see that he hurt you.

It's going to be hard for the Mavs not to show the pain of losing that series. How will they approach this game?

I think they can't help but remember what happened last year. The series fell apart for them in that building in Miami. They were up 13 with six and a half minutes to go in Game 3 … they want to get that out of their minds.

And Miami is going to want to keep it in their minds, right?

Miami may not be what they were last year yet. Depending on if Shaq plays or not -- and if he does, he's not going to be 100 percent conditioning-wise. Miami is going to want to make another statement.

A few weeks ago, this shaped up as a mismatch. But the Heat seem to be improving, right?

They're playing better. D-Wade is a given. But for Miami to be good, the Heat need Antoine Walker, Udonis Haslem and the other guys to step up. Gary Payton has to return to form. Jason Williams has to come to play. They have to re-energize their building.

Seems like Wade would get some extra special attention?

Yes. They've had six months now to design a defense to stop him -- not that anybody has yet. But Avery Johnson will have his team ready. The Mavs have improved from last season; they're playing better defensively and are a much better halfcourt team.

One important Heat piece will be missing with Pat Riley out for knee and hip surgery. A big factor?

Yes. Ron Rothstein has done a very good job. I'm a huge fan of Riley. Coaches like Riles and Phil Jackson make a difference. It's important for Riley to be around that team.

You were once Dirk's Mr. Miyagi. What's one piece of advice you would wax on the pupil now?

The only instruction I can give is tell him to stay healthy, because right now he is doing everything so well. The one criticism he had early was defense -- but right now, he's playing great D. His shot selection is great. You almost can't double-team him because of his passing ability.

Hmmm, seems The Rhine King is in the terrain of a favorite son of French Lick, Ind.

I think he compares well with Larry Bird, who thrived with players like Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. If the Mavs continue on same course, Dirk will have a few rings too.

ESPN analyst Kiki Vandeweghe, who was the Nuggets' GM for five years until last spring, played 13 NBA seasons, averaging 19.7 ppg for four teams from 1981 to '93.

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Retreat After Defeat
Devin Harris and Dirk Nowitzki
Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images
Devin Harris and Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks head to the locker room after losing Game 6 of the 2006 NBA Finals against the Miami Heat on June 20, 2006, at American Airlines Center in Dallas.

Thorpe On Mavericks

JP33 (Dallas): When it's all said and done, how do you see the career of Dirk Nowitzki in comparison to some of the other great big forwards -- Barkley, Malone, Duncan, KG, Bird? What if he adds a championship and an MVP before he's through?

David Thorpe: He's in the Hall right now if he just maintains his current efforts. He has a chance to be amongst the top 10 or so all-time. He's very, very special.

Shane (Dallas): Is there any way that Josh Howard isn't an All-Star this year? It would be a shame if the Mavs only get one All-Star, but have the best record in the league.

David Thorpe: There are so many good players -- someone has to be left off.

Read David Thorpe of Scouts Inc's complete chat Insider

Heading In Different Directions

Since the Heat won the NBA Finals over the Mavericks, the two teams have gone in different directions.

The Mavericks go into Sunday's game as the best team in the NBA with a record of 33-8, despite starting the season 0-4. The Mavericks are just one of four teams in NBA history with multiple 10-game win streaks in a season before February 1st. (The Suns have also done it this season). The first streak was 12 games from November 9 through December 1 and a 13-game win streak from December 13 to January 5. Mavericks head into Sunday on a 6-game win streak.

On the other hand, the Heat are 18-20 on the season, 3rd in the Southeast division and holding the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference due to owning the tiebreaker over the Nets. However, the Heat are 5-1 since Dwyane Wade returned from a sprained right wrist injury.

-- Lisa Brooks, ESPN Research

So, We Meet Again

Revisiting the Finals issue

NBA on ABC: Be Watching When website

That Championship Feeling
Dwyane Wade
Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images
In Dallas, Dwyane Wade got his hands on the hardware. On Sunday, he faces the team that he pried it loose from.

Shaq's Injury History

The big question heading into Sunday's game between the Mavericks and Heat is whether or not Shaquille O'Neal will play. O'Neal suffered torn cartilage in his left knee on November 12, and he has missed 33 straight games this season (assuming he doesn't play Friday against 76ers), the longest such streak of his career.

Shaq's Longest Missed Games Streaks
Dates Season Streak
Nov. 14-present 2006-07 33
Feb. 13-Apr. 9 1996-97 28
Nov. 3-Dec. 13 1995-96 22
Nov. 23-Dec. 30 1997-98 20
Nov. 5-Dec. 9 2005-06 18

-- Lisa Brooks, ESPN Research

Flashback: Zo's Finals Impact

Alonzo Mourning isn't able to play extended minutes as the result of a kidney transplant two years ago, but in spurts he's still amazing. He led the league in blocked shots per minute, and he led it by a lot -- his 5.31 blocks per 40 minutes was nearly a full block ahead of the rate of the next best shot-blocker, Minnesota's Eddie Griffin.

Because of those blocks, Mourning was the best reserve in the league last season. Not necessarily the most valuable Sixth Man -- Memphis' Mike Miller was able to play a lot more minutes, and thus was deserving of the award -- but on a per-minute basis, Zo was the best. His Player Efficiency Rating of 19.45 was not only the best among players who started fewer than 20 games, it would have ranked in the top 40 in all of basketball had he played enough minutes.

So even though it was Wade and Shaq who led the way, Miami couldn't have won without Mourning, especially not on this night.

Read John Hollinger's story Insider

Daily Dish: With Mavs GM Donnie Nelson

The Mavericks have the best record in the NBA and Dallas GM Donnie Nelson discusses his team with Daily Dish guest host Ryen Russillo. What kind of leader has Dirk Nowitzki become?

Daily Dish: Russillo with Donnie Nelson

Hollinger Power Rankings

ESPN.com debuted its new Hollinger Power Rankings on Thursday of this week. The Mavericks debuted at No. 2 (just behind the Suns) while the Heat came in way down the list at No. 24.

Here some of the comments we received from fans of both teams:

Don (Plano, Texas)
Phoenix may win the style points, but their And1 style will never hold up to the Mavs' tough, playoff-style basketball they're playing right now. Am I the only one that seems to remember that the Mavs have already beaten the top teams, and that Phoenix is 0-2 against Dallas?

Tarek (Richmond)
I agree with most of your rankings. But I'm curious as to how Miami can be so far down your list, with teams like the Knicks, Sonics and Kings ahead of them. I have a feeling Miami is going to go on a run right before the All-Star break.


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