- Jean-Jacques Taylor, ESPNDallas.com
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South Beach. Club LIV. Six-digit bottles of bubbly.
When the Dallas Mavericks made their last trip to South Beach 290 days ago, they were the NBA's best team, humbling superstars Dwyane Wade and LeBron James -- the dudes who mocked them during the series -- en route to winning their first NBA championship.
Normally, the first trip back to Miami would evoke all sort of feel-good memories.
See, there's no time to reminisce based on the way this team has been consistently inconsistent all season.
Only 15 games remain in this lockout-shortened 66-game season, and the fifth-seeded Mavs aren't close to clinching a playoff spot. Actually, they're only two games ahead of ninth-place Houston in the Western Conference.
So any type of prolonged slump could result in the unthinkable -- missing the playoffs. Laugh, if you want.
We're talking about a team that already has lost to raggedy teams such as New Jersey and New Orleans since the All-Star break. Eleven of the Mavs' 22 losses have been by at least 10 points, including seven of 15 points or more. And don't forget they're just 10-14 on the road.
That ain't championship-caliber basketball.
Mark Cuban insists he isn't worried about it. Neither, really, is Rick Carlisle. Or Dirk. Or any player who matters.
All they want is a spot in the playoffs -- even if they must start on the road.
Then the schedule will be more conducive for their eight players in their 30s because they'll have a day or two between games to rest their bodies and practice, enabling the Mavs to play their best basketball.
First, though, they must make the postseason.
Sweeping this two-game swing through Florida, which consists of a back-to-back against Miami and Orlando, would give the Mavs a shot of confidence as we move closer toward the end of the regular season.
They'd settle for a split.
After all, the Heat embarrassed the Mavs on Christmas Day with a 105-94 win. In the fourth quarter, Miami led by as many as 33 points.
"Christmas Day was miserable," Carlisle said.
Other than that, he wasn't interested in reminiscing about the Mavs winning the championship on Miami's court.
"I'm not going to get into all of that," he said.
Dirk didn't want to dwell on it too much either. It's hard to blame him, when you think about it.
"We've sort of been celebrating all year," Dirk said. "It seems like every other day we've had something going on. Now it's time to get ready for the playoffs, but it's nice to go back to the scene of the crime, so to speak."
Perhaps this is just the kind of challenge the Mavs need to find the swagger they've been missing virtually all season. Obviously, Miami would love nothing more than to deliver yet another butt-kicking, especially after consecutive losses by a combined 31 points. James has a dislocated finger on his non-shooting hand, but he's not about to miss the game. Miami, which is 35-13 and has the Eastern Conference's second-best record, has won 14 consecutive home games.
While the Mavs have been inconsistent all season, the Heat have played at a high level. They've been so good their current two-game losing streak is a cause of concern.
We chuckle in Dallas, where style points have been abolished. The Mavs have had four losing streaks of at least three games this season.
Leave it to Jet to forget about being politically correct. He's wearing his championship ring to Miami.
"It'll be fierce," he said about the atmosphere. "The championship is a long memory now. The only thing I can remember is Christmas Day."
Maybe, he'll have another game to remember after Thursday night's contest.
Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.
14hMatt Walks, ESPN.com