Updated: March 30, 2012, 3:40 AM ET

1. Heat Pump Up The Volume, Rout Mavs

By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com

MIAMI -- About 90 minutes before Thursday's home game against the Dallas Mavericks, LeBron James walked over to the stereo system in the Miami Heat's locker room, inserted his music device and pumped up the volume loud enough to send vibrations through a nearby dry-erase board.

There was Wu-Tang Clan's "Bring The Pain."

Then came Jay-Z's "Reservoir Dogs."

LeBron James
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireLeBron James and the Heat: back on the beat.

By the time a compilation of DMX's greatest hits blasted through the speakers, James had pounded and paced himself into a sweat-lathered, rhythmic routine that more resembled a boxer preparing for a big fight than a basketball player anxiously hoping to lead his team onto the court and out of a slump.

The music selection created a generational quandary among those milling around in the locker room before the Heat's 106-85 victory over the Mavericks. Some of James' teammates were bobbing their heads in sync with the 1990s hip-hop. Meanwhile, some older team staffers were shaking their heads in confusion, trying to sort through some of the rough language and violent themes of the songs.

Both sides agreed on one thing: This typically doesn't happen in the Heat's pregame sanctuary.

"I had to take it back," James would say after the game. "That's just the way I'm feeling sometimes."

What the Heat took back in taking apart the Mavericks in a matchup of teams from last season's NBA Finals was a piece of their identity that had been missing in recent days, perhaps even weeks. Miami had entered Thursday's game coming off their worst consecutive losses of the season, a pair of setbacks against Oklahoma City and Indiana by a combined 31 points.

James had been battered and bruised from elbow, neck and finger injuries. Miami's point guards had been pathetic for several weeks. Chris Bosh had reverted to his unproductive and mostly detached ways. Dwyane Wade was trying to overcompensate by playing hero-ball.

It led to an uninspiring stretch of play for the Heat, who had gone just 8-6 since the All-Star break and had split their previous four games before the defending champion Mavericks arrived in town.

What James did early Thursday night was shake the Heat out of a comfort zone. But it was a process that started the previous day on Wednesday when coach Erik Spoelstra pushed the team through what was described as a grueling training-camp practice that usually requires players to wear mouthpieces and protective padding.

After playing a punchless brand of basketball in recent days, the Heat arrived ready for a battle. Miami responded by shutting down Dallas in the fourth quarter and cruising to its 15th consecutive home win, one that helped the Heat re-establish some of its balance and, well, rhythm.

"We took a few steps forward after taking a few steps back last week," James said after he finished with 19 points, nine rebounds, five assists and two steals to start to emerge from his first lengthy slump as a member of the Heat. "We had a hard practice (Wednesday) and a pretty extensive shootaround (Thursday). There wasn't much that needed to be said. We just had to go and play and take care of business. To come back home, we worked our habits. The best thing about it was that we worked our habits and just didn't take another step backward, which was good to see."

Before the game, Spoelstra challenged his team to talk less about fixing their recent issues and to instead use Thursday's game to show that they were committed to get back on track. What the coach got was a performance that addressed, at least temporarily, some pressing concerns.

After watching his team get outworked on the glass by a total of 46 boards over the past eight games, Spoelstra witnessed the Heat pummel the Mavericks for a 44-29 advantage on the boards. And after seeing that up-tempo offense he installed in training camp essentially grind to a halt in recent outings because of turnovers and sporadic play, Spoelstra got to see a familiar free-flowing style from Miami.

The 106 points were the most by the Heat since a March 6 win against New Jersey, and the eight points they gave up on turnovers were their fewest since they allowed only four in a March 1 win at Portland in the first game after the All-Star break.

The 21-point margin of victory on Thursday was also reminiscent of the results Miami had last month, when they pieced together a stretch of nine consecutive victories by double-digit margins.

"It was a good team response -- a collective response," Spoelstra said before issuing another challenge to his team late Thursday night. "I think it's fitting. (But) what now? What's next?"

Spoelstra then rattled off a list of excuses his players could make heading into Friday's game at Toronto. He mentioned that it was the second game of a back-to-back set, that it was on the road, that the team probably wouldn't arrive until after 4 a.m. for a game that tips at 7 p.m.

It was a plea for his team to avoid settling back into any bad habits.

"We're looking to turn a corner," Bosh said. "Hopefully, this will give us a little bit of momentum. We have to do it one game at a time. As long as we keep elevating our play day by day, we'll be in the right spot come April."

Wade said the team didn't overreact to its poor play over the weekend, but also didn't take for granted that they could simply will their way out of the doldrums from Oklahoma City and Indiana.

"We understand that it was only two losses," Wade said. "We were losing while not playing our style of basketball. We can take it if we're losing and we're playing the game the Miami Heat is accustomed to playing. But this was getting back to what we're accustomed to on the floor. We did that tonight."

In other words, it was all about rediscovering their flow, regaining their rhythm.

James did his part to get the locker room jumping before the game.

By the time it was over, everyone else was in tune, too.

Dimes past: March 13 | 14 | 15 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23-24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28

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