DALLAS What a difference 18 months can make.
Remember back when the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks used to meet for NBA championships? Yeah, me too.
"It feels like a decade ago," Miami coach Erik Spoelstra quipped.
The last three meetings between the Heat and Mavericks don't come close to the 2011 feel. Or, for that matter, 2006. For two franchises that met in the NBA Finals in the span of five years, what we've witnessed since June two summers back holds about as much drama as Charlotte-Sacramento on a Tuesday night.
That includes Thursday night, as Miami blasted the Mavericks 110-95 at American Airlines Center. LeBron James cruised his way to 25 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined for 36.
Miami's current three-game winning streak in the series is its longest run since a 16-game run over Dallas in the 1990s. It might be a while before the Mavericks get the best of the Heat again.
"We're a much better team than we were in the Finals," LeBron said, referring to the last Dallas-Miami clash for all the marbles. "We're very comfortable with one another. We know each other."
If this rivalry "still" means anything to the Heat, it's more to do with laundry.
"Personnel-wise it's a lot different," said Bosh, a Dallas native. "But this stadium still has memories and they stay have the uniforms, so they look the same to me."
Not exactly Bird-Magic, Bulls-Pistons or what was Dallas-Miami.
"It ain't the same," said Shawn Marion, one of the few Mavs still here from 2011. "You ain't playing against the same guys we played the first time."
Each franchise did need a Finals loss to refocus and exercise demons before eventually climbing the title mountain. It took the Mavericks five years. Twelve months after an epic humbling, the Heat stood tall.
Miami hasn't opened this season at the same Larry O'Brien level, but the names LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Bosh are the same, and the Heat seem to be turning it up a notch. The Mavericks can attest to that.
"We wanted to come out and dominate and play at a high level," James said of his 17-6 Heat. "We've been playing some good ball, especially defensively, as of late and we wanted to keep that going."
Unlike the Mavericks after their title, Miami has added to its core with guys like Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. The rich just get richer.
The Mavericks, in some ways, resemble the post-2006 champion Heat. That Miami squad peaked with a title and quickly plummeted into mediocrity, bottoming out with the worst record in the league in 2008.
While Dallas hasn't suck to those depths, Mark Cuban's bunch doesn't carry the same cachet of the previous decade. Those Mavericks teams were almost always in the title conversation. They were a glamour franchise, a TV darling.
The Mavericks of the past two seasons don't measure up to their predecessors. And though Cuban says they're not close to going the same rebuilding route Miami took post-Shaq, it sure feels like a rebuild.
Dirk Nowitzki and Marion are the only significant pieces left from the 2011 NBA champs. Tyson Chandler? Jason Kidd? Dallas fans would be smart not to watch the New York Knicks these days.
The dismantling of the last 18 months doesn't currently hold much hope for the future. Cuban has said for years that 41-41 is NBA No-Man's Land. It'll just get you in the playoffs and won't get you a good draft pick.
The Mavs (12-14) are making a reservation for Hotel .500 as they await Nowitzki's return. Dirk hopes to be back sometime soon after Christmas. Dallas was also without Derek Fisher and Elton Brand against Miami.
"We are playing a random game right now because of our personnel situation," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle admitted.
Cuban hasn't considered writing off this season, at least not yet. And the idea that the Mavericks could dump high-salaried veterans for young talent isn't realistic. This isn't baseball. Dallas would be hard-pressed to turn Chris Kaman or Brand or Marion into a future building block along with high draft picks.
The shortcut to return to relevancy lies in cap space. That's the ultimate Dallas plan and that's why Cuban didn't bring the band back together for 2012. How did that work out with Deron Williams?
To be fair, that strategy worked out on South Beach splendidly a couple of summers back.
Maybe it can happen in Dallas, and Heat-Mavs becomes what it once was. Some of us still remember.