MIAMI -- For Dirk Nowitzki, games against the Miami Heat bring back memories.
Some of them good. Some of them not so good.
During the 2006 NBA Finals against the Heat, the Dallas Mavericks were locked in a big-time groove. The Mavericks won the first two games of the best-of-seven series and were on their way to an insurmountable 3-0 lead when they led Game 3 89-76 with 6:33 remaining.
Miami guard Dwyane Wade, however, personally outscored the Mavericks down the stretch 12-9, and the Heat stunned the Mavericks 98-96. The Mavericks then shockingly lost the ensuing three games and a series they thought they had in the bag.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Star-Telegram
The Mavericks, though, were able to exact revenge last year when they defeated the Heat in six games to claim the franchise's first NBA title.
But, add in the 2007 season when the Mavericks became the first No. 1 seed to lose a best-of-seven series to a No. 8 seed (Golden State), and forward Dirk Nowitzki knows the Mavericks could easily have been celebrating three NBA championships over the past six seasons. That explains the pain Nowitzki has had to endure as the Mavericks' No. 1 go-to guy.
"I think I said it a lot, in that '06 is part of who I am, it's part of who we are as a franchise," Nowitzki said. "I think it made me a better player, so you can't totally forget about your past.
"The first-round exit against Golden State is part of it. I think all of it made me stronger and made me a better closer down the stretch and really helped me last year in the playoff run, and obviously for us to become a champion."
The Mavericks (29-22) will be reminded of the pain of '06 when they play the Heat (35-13) at 7 tonight at AmericanAirlinesArena. They also will have some fond memories dancing around in their heads since this is also the venue where the Mavericks clinched last year's seemingly elusive championship.
"When you go in that building you're going to see that banner they have up there from '06,'' Nowitzki said. "We'd love to have won it in '06, but I don't know if that would have helped us win it in '11.
"Sometimes you have to go through bad stretches and disappointments to come out on top."
Nowitzki is glad that the season is winding to a close, and that the Mavericks -- who went through six banner/ring/ex-players celebrations -- can now focus on the final 15 games of the regular season.
"We felt like we were celebrating all season," Nowitzki said.
A win over the Heat would be a tremendous jolt for the Mavericks.
"Because of how close the standings are in the West we have to take every game seriously, because we have to win every game that we can, and we have to approach every game like it's a playoff game," guard Rodrigue Beaubois said. "We have to be focused from the beginning to the end."
For the Mavericks, that magical run toward trying to repeat as NBA champions could start with a huge breakout victory over the Heat.
"I don't want to dwell too much on the past," Nowitzki said. "But it's a big game, a fun game, it's fun to compete against one of the best teams in this league.
"It will be nice to go back to the scene of the crime. But we've got to move on and we've got a ballgame to play."
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760