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The Dallas Mavericks may have ended their own win streak last week, but if it’s any consolation, they ended yet another team’s streak with their 98-96 victory over the Miami Heat on Monday. Dirk Nowitzki scored a game-high 26 points and Shawn Marion snagged 13 rebounds off the bench, the most of any player, in this hard-fought game at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. The Mavericks were able to withstand several big surges from the Heat in a loud, hostile arena to bring Miami’s 12-game winning streak to an abrupt end.
Dallas put forth a team effort, and Coach Carlisle praised their ability to tough out the Heat’s big runs. "I love the way we hung in," Carlisle said. "We had a couple of leads and we lost them. We stayed poised. Guys believed in each other." Tyson Chandler, who pulled in 10 rebounds and had eight points on the night, credited his teammates for learning from their loss to Milwaukee, saying "It seemed like the longer our winning streak was going, we started to take a step back and relax on the defensive end. We took that loss, and I think it woke everybody back up, and now we’re communicating out there and we’re actually following the coach’s game plan and winning."
Much of that communication consisted of encouraging one another to keep trying, despite some players experiencing cold spells throughout the game. Nowitzki went cold at the end of the game, missing some shots quite badly, just as Jason Terry was able to find his groove and come alive in the fourth quarter. Terry, who went scoreless in the first three quarters, found his shot in the final period and finished with 19 points off the bench. Jason Kidd (7 points, 7 assists) praised Terry, saying, "he’s such a great teammate and since he’s always cheering other guys on if they’re struggling a little bit, this is role reversal where everybody’s cheering him on saying ‘hey we just need you to make one’." Two of Terry’s three 3-point baskets came with under three minutes to play in the game.
It wasn’t just the Dallas offense that gave them this victory. Their defense, which has been the topic of many discussions this season, was able to not only stop two double-digit Heat scoring runs, but they were also able to hold LeBron James scoreless in the first half. Kidd, the offensive mastermind, understands the value of the Dallas defense: "We gotta rely on that defense if we’re gonna win," Kidd said. "Our offense is gonna come and go, we’re gonna make shots, but we rely on our defense, come the fourth quarter, we gotta get stops." Chandler agreed, noting, "this has to be our identity. If we want to have a special year, we gotta think defense first."
The streakbusters don’t have much time to revel in this victory since they are heading straight up to Orlando to try and sweep Florida in a back-to-back series. The Magic have revamped their team a bit, acquiring Gilbert Arenas from the Washington Wizards. For Chandler, however, the focus is on their franchise player, Dwight Howard. "Definitely gotta make it tough for him. I gotta force him into some tough shots," he said. "It always comes down to me making his night tough."
Looking ahead, the Mavericks are realistic about where they are in the season. It’s only December, and streaks, whether their own or others’, are unimportant in the grand scheme of things. "Those aren’t things you think much about," Carlisle said. "This is a hundred-game season, so each night you’re coming out, concentrating on getting a good set of possessions to start the game. But there are a lot of good teams this year, so there are winning streaks. We’ve had some of our own broken, and those things happen, but that’s not really what the mission is. The mission is to become the best team that we can and eventually become a great team. We’re not there yet. We’ve made some progress but we gotta keep moving the right way."
For Nowitzki, the only streak that matters will be one that occurs in the postseason: "If we break a lot of streaks in the playoffs, that will be more like it but as far as right now it doesn’t mean a lot so just keep on working."