Dallas at Heat: 5 things to watch

Dwyane WadeGlenn James/NBAE/Getty Images

The last time the Heat dropped a game? In Dallas, where a players-only meeting followed the loss.

Neutralize Nowitzki

If it feels like Dirk Nowitzki doesn’t miss these days, that’s because he doesn’t. The 32 year-old is in the midst of one of the best shooting campaigns in the history of the NBA, nailing 56 percent from the floor with most of those shots coming outside the paint. But Nowitzki has only four games where he shot less than 40 percent -- and one of them came against the Heat. Nowitzki uncharacteristically missed 14 of his 23 shots in their first match-up back on November 27. The Heat were fortunate. Time and time again, Heat big men guarding Nowitzki would double up on the ball handler (even J.J. Barea) in a pick-and-roll situation, leaving Nowitzki alone for the jumper. Nowitzki didn’t hit his shots, but the Heat have to communicate better through screens to keep a body on Nowitzki at all times. Also, he’s absolutely deadly from the right block, especially when he pivots to face up. Bosh must stay close and keep his hands active when Nowitzki has the ball on his hip since it’s virtually impossible to affect Dirk's shot once he brings it over his head. The moment you relent, the ball’s already splashing through the net.

Jumpstarting James

Lost amidst the silly “bumpgate” coverage in Game 1 was the fact that LeBron James had a dreadful shooting night. The two-time MVP went 0-for-9 on shots outside 15 feet and bricked all six of his attempts during the decisive third quarter. James lazily launched jumpers early in the shot clock, as if November 17, 2010 marked the first time he had seen a zone defense. Maybe we could excuse the passivity as a symptom of the Heat's back-to-back. Or more likely, it was because of Tyson Chandler. The Mavericks center obliterated the Heat on offense, but also bothered James all night, altering the Akron native’s drives to the basket and deterring potential penetration. The Heat would do themselves a service by keeping Zydrunas Ilgauskas out on the perimeter and make it hard for Chandler to rotate over to stop James. Erick Dampier and Joel Anthony warrant little attention on offense, liberating Chandler to help without consequence. Ilgauskas isn't an offensive juggernaut by any means but Dampier and Anthony's presence effectively encourages a double team. The Heat won’t win their 13th straight game if James settles for jumpers again.

Fight the Mavs off the ball

With one-third of the season in the books, it's clear this isn't your typical Dallas Mavericks offense. The Mavs are a far more creative unit, mixing in clever half-court sets into their traditional read-and-react system. Some of those new schemes are still works in progress, but when the Mavs are clicking -- as they have been for the better part of a month -- they're incredibly efficient. Nowitzki will almost always get his, but the Mavs have integrated several new features into their offense. Guys who had a tendency to fall stationary or worked primarily in isolation, like Caron Butler and Shawn Marion, are working off the ball to find clean looks. In his first meeting with the Heat, Marion tormented Miami by running in constant motion in the half court. The Matrix would curl off an elbow rub from one of the Mavs' guards, catch the ball on the move, then take it to the rim. Then there's Chandler. If you need one guy in the NBA to set you a pin-down for a game-winner, he's the guy. Mavs' scorers are using him beautifully as a screener both on and off the ball to get open space to catch, then drive or shoot. The Heat's efforts to fight through Chandler were miserable in meeting No. 1. Worse, helpers were routine late (if they arrived at all) on the switch to pick up the cutter. That has to change on Monday.

Attack the Dallas zone

The Heat's loss against Dallas on November 27 was their fourth least efficient outing of the season. One of the reasons? They scored on only 10 of 34 possessions against the Mavericks' pesky zone defense. The 2-3 matchup zone is working wonders in Dallas, largely because the Mavs are exerting more ball pressure than most passive zone defenses apply. The Dallas zone makes an effort to pin the ball on the sideline and double scorers when they get the ball within proximity of the basket. In addition, the Mavs are using their length to deny the kind of side-to-side passes that destabilize a zone. The Heat tried to move the ball against the Mavs' zone, but rather than zip passes to cutters and teammates on the move, they simply passed the ball deliberately around the perimeter, never challenging Dallas in earnest. Fortunately, the Heat have installed some new features into their offense since that horrendous night in Dallas. They're moving cutters along the baseline and from the weak side, good antidotes for the zone. They also need to get LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to penetrate from the top of the floor, which will draw collapsing defenders. This will earn a bundle of free throws and some clean looks for Miami's perimeter threats. What the Heat can't afford to do is meander like they did in Dallas.

Handle Tyson Chandler

Want to know one of the primary reasons Dirk Nowitzki is having an MVP season? Try getting around a Chandler pin-down. The 7-foot-1 Buick has found a perfect home in Dallas, a place where his body can generate space for one of the most prolific shooters of his generation, and where his ability to roll to the rim can be rewarded with a pinpoint pass from one of the most talented point guards of his era, Jason Kidd. In addition to pancaking defenders trying to fight through picks, Chandler is posting career highs in Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and free-throw percentage. He's leading the entire NBA in true shooting percentage at 70.9 percent, ranks eighth in rebounding rate and his turnover rate has plummeted. His 17 rebounds against the Heat on November 27 was as many as Miami's two leading rebounders that night ... combined. He abused Miami underneath the Mavs' offensive glass for seven offensive boards, ripping rebounds away from Bosh, Ilgauskas and James. Containing Chandler beneath the glass will need to be a committee effort.