8:00 PM ET, March 29, 2012
AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami, FL
MIAMI (AP) -- LeBron James said it was one of the most painful moments that he can remember, one that is weighing heavily on him as the Miami Heat get ready for an NBA finals rematch with the Dallas Mavericks.
No, the Heat forward isn't talking about losing last year's title series.
He's talking about dislocating the ring finger on his left, non-shooting, hand at Indiana earlier this week.
"The only recovery for it, the doctors told me, was rest," James said. "And I think we all know I'm having none of that."
Not now, anyway -- not with the Mavericks coming back to the building where they celebrated winning a championship a little over nine months ago, and not with the Heat trying to snap a two-game slide that left them looking up at both Chicago and Oklahoma City in the race for the NBA's best record.
Dallas visits Miami on Thursday night, the second and final meeting of this regular season between the clubs.
The first one: All Miami. The Heat watched the Mavs raise their championship banner on Christmas Day, then built as much as a 35-point lead before settling for a 105-94 victory.
"A bad taste in our mouth," Mavs guard Jason Terry said.
So as much as the Heat remember Dallas celebrating on their floor, the Mavs remember the opener, too.
"We've got to think back to Christmas Day because that was a miserable experience for us," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "That was really tough. I was watching some of it (Tuesday). They played terrific, and they were great that day, and we weren't, and so we're going to have to play a lot better."
Which is sort of a Heat mantra these days as well.
The Heat have been held under 100 points in 11 of their last 13 games, and that's not even the most staggering stat. Through March 1, Miami was the league's highest-scoring team at 103.8 points per game. Since then, the Heat are 25th at 93.1 points per game -- and all the clubs they're outscoring are well outside the playoff picture.
Miami has a 14-game home winning streak, the margin of victory in those games a little over 10 points. But after losing at Oklahoma City and Indiana by a combined 31 points -- the first time since James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh became teammates nearly two years ago that the Heat endured double-digit losses in consecutive games -- Heat coach Erik Spoelstra decided Wednesday's practice was the right time to address the slippage.
Not with words, but with action.
"Every team goes through this," Spoelstra said. "Sometimes you take things for granted and you become flat over the course of a long NBA season. And this season's been a challenge for everybody. So it's not an excuse."
James went through the workout, though his left ring finger was bandaged afterward. He dislocated it in the first quarter against Indiana on Monday, popping it back into place himself and labored through the rest of the game. James was catching passes with his right hand only for much of that game, and this latest concern comes not long after two nasty falls in a game against Phoenix last week.
"He's got a football-type mentality," Heat forward Udonis Haslem said. "No one can ever question his toughness."
The Mavericks have won two straight, maybe turning things around after a stretch where they lost 11 of 18 games. Entering Wednesday, Dallas had the fifth-best record in the Western Conference, and was only two games ahead of ninth-place Houston.
Clearly, there's not a lot of time for reminiscing over last year's title run right now. And that may be one of the reasons why Mavs owner Mark Cuban didn't bring his championship ring on this trip to Miami.
"When I walk in, it'll be fun," Cuban said. "And when I hear from their fans, it'll be more interesting. But we've got bigger issues to address."
Dallas has only six home games left, and three of those are next week. If the Mavericks are going to make a real playoff push, it probably should be starting right about now.
"Well, it's another critical game in the standings," Carlisle said. "We know they are a terrific team. They've lost a couple of games. We've been a little up and down over the last three weeks, so you know it's ... we've got to get ready to lace it up and come at them."
James said he never wants to use injuries as an excuse, and that if he's in uniform, he should be considered ready to play. And he plans to be in uniform on Thursday night.
"The last few weeks, we haven't played to how we're capable of playing," James said. "It can change with (Thursday's) performance. So we're going to go out there and do what we need to do."
Last 5 Games
Team Stat Leaders
With one more loss this month, Miami will have equaled its loss total from December through February. The Heat are averaging 9.6 PPG fewer this month while their advantage on the boards has nearly been flip-flopped.[+]
Heat This Season
Miami has gone a perfect 5-0 at home this month, but just 3-6 on the road. The primary culprit - defense. The Heat are allowing 8.7 more PPG on the road and their opponents are shooting 4 percent better from the field.[+]
Heat This Month
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh haven't been receiving as much support this month. Non-big three players are averaging 31.7 PPG on just 39.4 percent shooting. Entering this month, those players were averaging 42.3 PPG on 45.0 percent from the field.[+]
Non-Big 3 Players - This Season
It's not often that teams bounce back from a poor March. The Heat (8-6) have a win percentage of .571 this month. Elias says that dating back to the ABA-NBA merger in 1976-77, only four teams finished with a win percentage of .571 or worse in March and then went on to capture the NBA title - the most recent being the 1994-95 Rockets who posted a 7-8 record.[+]
Worst March Win Pct By NBA Champion - Since ABA-NBA Merger (1976-77)
ESPN Stats & Information