NBA Christmas Day Tip-Off: Dallas Mavericks host Miami Heat

LeBron James and the Miami Heat look to soar over the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA's biggest game for Opening Day.

It really doesn’t get any better than this for NBA fans today; it’s the opening tip-off of the season for NBA Basketball, it’s Christmas, and it’s a rematch of last season’s NBA Championship as the Dallas Mavericks prepare for a visit from the Miami Heat. Forget about a slow start to a new season that eases us back into the excitement of the NBA. We’re starting off full-tilt with one of the most exciting match-ups around, and there’s no doubt that the energy level at American Airlines Arena in Dallas, Texas will be through the rafters especially as the Mavericks get the champion’s pleasure of raising their championship banner for the first time, in the faces of the team they beat in six games in last year’s NBA Finals. Grudge match anyone?!?

For the Dallas Mavericks however, it’s the first time NBA fans will be getting a look at a very different team than the one that brought home the NBA Championship trophy last season. Gone is big-man and defensive standout Tyson Chandler. Gone is the speedy and scrappy J.J. Barea, as well as Caron Butler. Enter one Lamar Odom and one Vince Carter into the mix, and we’ve got a Dallas team that very few will know what to expect from, even with the veteran presences of NBA Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Shawn Marion and Jason Kidd returning to action. What we can expect however in tonight’s match-up, is that the veteran Mavericks will be adamant about putting their best foot forward against the Miami Heat, who no doubt come into tonight’s NBA tip-off with something to prove for the season, carrying a healthy chip on their shoulder after falling short against the Mavs for their ultimate goal.

Make no mistake folks, this year’s Miami Heat will be a contender once again. With the Big Three of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh getting a year to play together under their belt, head coach Erik Spoelstra must like his chances of getting back to the finals, as the Heat remain relatively unchanged from the team that went 58-24 last season. With a shaky beginning to last year just a memory, that record stands to see an improvement with the Heat jumping out of the blocks as a cohesive unit, especially with the veteran addition of Shane Battier infused in the line-up. While some will still point to the absence of a true point guard to run the Miami offense (a task currently reserved for Mario Chalmers (6.4 points, 2.5 assists last season), the sheer talent level of the Big Three working in tandem has, and will be enough to carry the Heat through most match-ups. Adding over 70 points per game to the bottom line, James, Wade and Bosh look ready to improve on their own collective numbers on offense this season to give Miami the shot in the arm to push them towards championship territory.

While Miami’s destiny is already picked to be that of a champion, with the majority of bookmakers making the Heat the odds-on favorites to win this year’s title, we’re only into the first game of the season, and against a Dallas team that will be anxious to not see their banner raising party spoiled on opening night, it’s yet to be seen how they deal with a Dallas team that already has the upper hand in confidence coming into tonight’s match-up. Dallas was able to beat the Heat in six games by utilizing their depth, and relying on their veterans to make smart decisions and play excellent defense. That last bit is the key area of focus for the Mavericks entering tonight’s game, and something to watch specifically for is the void left in the middle by Tyson Chandler, who’s 10 points and 9.4 boards per game won’t be missed nearly as much as his ability to shut down the paint against opposing big men. The good thing coming into this match-up is that Miami is not big size-wise, and in tonight’s game Brendan Haywood will get a chance to prove his worth as the new center in the middle for the Mavericks, tasked with holding down Chris Bosh and clogging the lanes when either Dwayne Wade or LeBron James inevitably coming streaking through. Haywood will get help from the addition of Lamar Odom, the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year who averaged over 14 points and almost 9 rebounds a game for the Los Angeles Lakers, who tossed him out the door in one of the worst trade moves seen this offseason. The Lakers loss is Dallas’ gain, and Odom should make a difference filling the void left by Tyson Chandler immediately. A great shooter, a court leader, and a veteran, expect Odom to be a key figure in the bottom line throughout the season, and in this game specifically for the Mavs.

For the Heat to walk out of Big D with a win, they need to pull out some bench scoring and get some quality minutes from others outside the Big Three, which Dallas did a good job of frustrating and keeping at bay during the 2011 NBA Finals. While there’s no doubt that LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh can carry a game, it’s what happens to the Heat when one or a few of the Big Three don’t perform up to expectations that can make a difference in a game on any given night. Getting improved performances this year from point guard Mario Chalmers will be essential for the Heat, especially as he’ll face a tough challenge matching up to the veteran threats of Jason Kidd and Jason Terry around the perimeter. After Chalmers, the scoring presence of the rest of the Heat drops off the table quickly, but getting a boost from new shooting forward Shane Battier will certainly help in the long run. For tonight’s game though, with Battier likely left out while nursing a hamstring injury, it will be interesting to see how Miami deals with Shawn Marion, who could make life difficult for the Heat as they try and focus attention on Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Lamar Odom. The bottom line is still the same though; for Miami to have success, they can’t hedge all their points on the Big Three, especially not against defensively sound teams like Dallas. Getting scoring outside James, Wade and Bosh is a must, so pay close attention to the inputs of Chalmers, Udonis Haslem and Eddy Curry in tonight’s game to get a feel for how the Heat have balanced out their line-up after a year’s worth of playing time together.

Betting Lines for the Miami Heat vs. Dallas Mavericks at Betonline Sportsbook

The Miami Heat enter tonight’s road contest as the favorite on the money line, with -205 odds to win at Betonline Sportsbook. Getting a -5 at -110 odds against the spread is more of a cushion than I’d expect for a big game in which Dallas hopes to raise their championship banner and a first victory on the season, but it’s understandable considering the shake-up for the Mavs in relation to the relatively similar looking Miami Heat. Nonetheless, for Dallas pickers tonight, there is good money to be made looking for a Mavs win, as they have a solid +5 cushion against the spread (-110 odds), and have a very favorable +175 on the money line. Though the 188 over/under on total points takes a cautious approach for the first game of the season, we’re not going that way. We expect both teams to come out shooting, pushing the ball forward, with the hopes of getting out to an early lead and maintaining. Defense should go by the wayside a little bit in tonight’s game, as teams haven’t had time to solidify their defensive schemes for the year with new players, so seeing the 188 1/2 points set on the over fall may be a worthwhile bet to chase at Betonline Sportsbook.

Our Pick to Win:

While this year’s Miami Heat team is certainly a challenger, and comes into the season as one of the more cohesive units in the NBA with James, Wade and Bosh getting a year under their collective belts together, I still like the veteran leadership across the Dallas line-up in the face of a cocky group of Heat players that have everyone calling them the best in the league already. While that billing is more justified for the Heat team that has played a full season with most of its current roster already, I still think there are areas of improvement for the Heat yet to be ironed out, and that starts with the play of the Big Three’s supporting cast. For Dallas, I like the fact that they have two outstanding Sixth Men in Jason Terry and the newly-acquired Lamar Odom. Their size and depth is going to cause problems once again for Miami tonight, and while it’s going to be tougher for Dallas to win with some missing components from last season, their overall talent level should be enough to keep this match-up close tonight. I’m personally going out on a (little) limb for today’s opening game, taking Dallas to win outright by a score of 98-96 as the game comes down to the wire. Either which way you look at it however, it’s opening day for another fantastic NBA season, a great chance to sink your first wager into the best game on Christmas Day, and no matter which way your betting gets placed, we all win with NBA Basketball back on the betting lines at the top online sportsbooks reviewed here!

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