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Mavericks, Heat moving in opposite directions

Jan 18, 2023; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (22) drives to the basket against New Orleans Pelicans guard Jose Alvarado (15) during the first half at Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks, who have lost five of their past six games, will try to get back on track Friday night when they host the Miami Heat.

Dallas has lost three in a row, including a 130-122 defeat to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday that left Mavericks coach Jason Kidd upset.

“It’s like a shootaround,” Kidd said of his team’s lack of defense. “Until we put more effort and understanding into defense, we can score 120, but we’re also going to allow 130 or 140. One night, we might give up 150.”

While Dallas has been sinking, Miami has been rising, winning four of its past five games, including a 124-98 road victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday.

One of the keys for the Heat is the play of Jimmy Butler, who has made getting to the foul line an artform.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Butler’s ability to draw fouls is especially important on the road, which is where they will be on Friday.

“You’re doing whatever you can to control the game and the tempo,” Spoelstra said. “There’s no better way to do that offensively than at the free-throw line.”

Butler, who uses a lot of pump fakes, leads Miami with 7.9 free throws per game, and he makes 85.0 percent of his foul shots. In a 121-113 loss in Atlanta on Monday, he went 11-for-11 from the line in scoring a game-high 34 points.

“The way Jimmy does it is not trickery,” Spoelstra said. “He earns them. It’s aggressiveness. It’s assertiveness. It’s understanding when to attack, when defenses aren’t quite set. He takes advantage of poor body position. He’s rugged. He’s physical. But he has a very quick brain, which allows him to draw fouls.”

Butler often takes a pounding drawing those fouls, and Spoelstra said the proof of that is the ice bags that his star player uses following a typical game.

For the season, Butler leads Miami in points (22.0) and steals (2.0). He ranks second in rebounds (6.3) and assists (5.2).

Miami’s two other keys are center Bam Adebayo (averaging 21.5 points and a team-high 10.1 rebounds) and guard Tyler Herro (20.8 points).

The Heat got starting point guard Kyle Lowry back Wednesday after he had missed four games due to a sore left knee. He had seven points, eight rebounds and four assists in 22 minutes.

The Mavericks are led by forward Luka Doncic, the Western Conference’s Player of the Month for December. In 15 December games, Doncic averaged 35.1 points, 9.3 assists and 8.5 rebounds.

That stands as the highest-scoring month in Mavericks history.

But the Mavericks — who went 11-4 in December — have gone cold in January, winning just three of nine games.

Shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr. went down on Jan. 14 with an ankle injury and the Mavs lost that game and the two since then. And reserve power forward Maxi Kleber has been out since mid-December with a hamstring injury.

“His defense is underrated,” Kidd said of Kleber, who is averaging 6.2 points and 3.5 rebounds in 26 minutes a game.

Fortunately for the Mavericks, Dorian Finney-Smith and Josh Green returned Wednesday.

Finney-Smith, who missed 14 games due to a leg injury, had nine points and nine rebounds in 35 minutes. Green, who missed 20 games with an elbow injury, scored nine points in 20 minutes.

–Field Level Media