Heat seek history; Mavs answers

Dirk NowitzkiDerick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Heat and their core of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh start the second half of the NBA season with one goal: win a third consecutive NBA title.

It must be nice to have that as a realistic goal.

The journey starts Tuesday against the Dallas Mavericks.

Hard to believe it hasn't even been three full seasons since the Mavericks shocked much of the free world by beating the Heat and winning their first title. Seems more like 20 or 30 years ago, right?

While the Heat talk about history, around here we reminisce about the good old days and what might've been if Mark Cuban had kept the Mavs together.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we've all heard the myriad of reasons about why Cuban didn't think that made sense.

We know the Mavs were trying to get the proverbial big fish, such as Deron Williams (insert laugh track) or Dwight Howard.

Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion remain quality NBA pieces, but they're all that remain from one of the more improbable championship runs in NBA history.

Of course, Rick Carlisle is still here too, moving pieces around and demanding his team play with the proper disposition every day.

The reality, however, is that while the Heat prepare to contend for another title, we wonder whether the Mavs will be the sixth, seventh or eighth seed in the West.

We wonder whether there's any possible trade that would make the Mavs legitimate contenders this season.

And we wonder whether it's better for Cuban to blow it up and hope he gets lucky with a lottery pick that can develop into a star the way Dirk did.

Since winning their title, the Mavs were swept by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs, then missed the postseason for the first time in more than a decade.

They're 32-22 this season, but they're the kind of team that could lose to raggedy team such as the Charlotte Bobcats on one day and overpower the best team in the Eastern Conference, the Indiana Pacers, a day later -- which is just what they did last week.

StiIl, no one considers the Mavs to be anything but an annoyance when the playoffs start. With Carlisle and Dirk, they're not the kind of team any other club wants to face, but they're not good enough to make a long playoff run.

Winning one round for the Mavs would be great. No one but Cuban, the guys in the locker room and the MFFL (Mavs Fans For Life) believe they can get to the Western Conference championship, which is cool.

Folks like to talk about anything being possible once you get into the playoffs, but that's not really the truth. In a best-of-seven series, the best team wins. No team flukes its way to four wins.

While the Mavs plot of ways to upset the better teams in the Western Conference, it's the complete opposite for the Heat.

They're trying to become one of the transcendent teams in NBA history. Since the great Boston Celtics' run, when they captured eight consecutive titles from 1959 to 1966, only Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers have won three straight titles.

Chicago did it twice in the 1990s and the Lakers did it from 2000 to 2002. Now, Miami wants to add its name to the list.

Since losing to the Mavs, James has gone from a player who couldn't quite get it done at winning time to a guy who doesn't mind telling you he wants to be the greatest player ever before his career ends.

The Heat are managing Wade's minutes, so he'll be fresh in the playoffs and to keep his body from breaking down. And Bosh is consistently good.

Frankly, if we're honest, that's the frustrating part.

While the Heat seek their place in NBA history, the Mavs haven't been able to put a championship team around Dirk as his career winds down.

The Mavs are largely irrelevant, aside from when the owner makes news for some controversial comment or gets fined for being occasionally petulant.

They're a fun team to watch, because they're one of the best offensive teams in the league. And Dirk has proved he's still an All-Star caliber player. Monta Ellis has been better than we could have hoped for, and Jose Calderon has been as advertised at point guard .

But their defense is awful and their rebounding average. These Mavs aren't good enough to win a title or bad enough to get a high pick in the lottery. It's the worst place an NBA franchise can reside.

And to think, less than three years ago the Mavs were on top of the world.

That seems like forever ago.