MIAMI It hardly had the feel of an NBA Finals rematch. Fans arrived late and they left early.
Miami's foe Thursday night might have been Dallas, but that was in name only. These Mavericks don't bear a great resemblance to the outfit that beat the Heat in the last spring's Finals.
The final score at AmericanAirlines Arena had the Heat winning 106-85. There were no miracle comebacks this time by the Mavericks, who were outscored 16-2 to close the night.
Nobody seemed too surprised afterward in the Heat locker room. For starters, while nobody wanted to say it, it's evident the Mavericks (29-23) have slipped plenty since the last time they were in Miami, for the series-clinching Game 6. But also, the Heat are starting to expect good things happening at home, where they've won 15 straight and are 21-2 overall.
"Not really," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said when asked if the lopsided score was surprising. "We've been playing very well here."
As for the road, it's been a different story. So is it any wonder that after Thursday's game, the Heat were doing as much talking about playing at 17-34 Toronto on Friday as they were about having just beaten the defending champions by 21?
The Heat are 15-11 on the road, which is the fourth-best mark in the league. But they've won just two of their past eight, with the past two games embarrassing losses at Oklahoma City and Indiana.
If the Heat (36-13), who are 3 games behind Chicago in the East, want to claim the top seed, they had better make a move now.
"We need to go on a streak," said Wade, who had 16 points. "We need to play well. When I say go on a streak, (I mean) just playing good basketball and see what the results do."
One thing that would help is if Heat forward LeBron James can get back to playing at the MVP level he had been showing much of the season. If the Gallup Poll were to spring into action, James might now be trailing Thunder forward Kevin Durant.
In none of his previous five games had James shot 50 percent, shooting 35 of 86 (40.7 percent) overall. With Miami placing six players in double figures Thursday, James wasn't needed to put up big numbers. But there were no complaints with his shooting 8 of 16 for 19 points, tying forward Chris Bosh for team honors, while grabbing nine rebounds and handing out five assists.
"I missed a lot of shots that I know I'm capable of making," James said of his slump. "I felt like I was in a groove (Thursday)."
How much James has been hurting during recent games is a matter of debate. He banged his head and his elbow March 20 against Phoenix and then dislocated a finger he popped back in place in the first half Monday at Indiana.
"It's that point in the season," James said of his injuries. "Everybody (aches). I don't know if there is one person that is 100 percent at this point of the season. Any team. If I'm in uniform, I put a lot of pressure on myself to be productive. I've got ailments and things like that, but when I put on a uniform and put that jersey on my back, then I need to go out there and help our team win."
James, the 2009 and 2010 MVP, did just that. If there was any duel between the guys who have won the award, it was gone by the second half. Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki, the 2007 winner, shot 8 of 10 for 16 points in the first half before going 1 of 9 after intermission and finishing with 25 points.
"They really picked up the pressure," Nowitzki said. "They got into us. We didn't really have any good looks anymore."
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra spent the first 30 seconds of his postgame news conference talking about beating Dallas. Then he immediately launched into what could be his pregame pep talk in Toronto.
"We go right back on the road," said Spoelstra, whose Heat play Sunday at Boston to conclude a stretch of five of six on the road. "No chance to feel comfortable. We can come up with any excuse that we want. I'll throw them out there right now, OK?
"Back-to-back (games). We'll arrive in Toronto probably around 4 a.m. We'll probably get to sleep around 5:30 or 6. Early game (starting at 7 p.m.). Do you want any other excuses? We haven't played well on the road the last two games. This is great opportunity for us It's time for a response on the road."
Yes, that's a lot of passion for a game against the lowly Raptors. But Spoelstra knows the Heat's recent road failings have put his team at bit of a crossroads.
"We're going to play well on the road," Bosh declared. "We know we have some more work to do. We're going to pick it up."
If the Heat don't, they always can make some excuses. Spoelstra has provided plenty of suggestions.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @christomasson