MIAMI -- The Miami Heat silenced critics by winning 12 straight to vault them into second place in the Eastern Conference.
However, a 98-96 loss to Dallas on Monday night will again raise questions.
Can Miami beat the elite teams?
The Heat (21-9) have now lost both meetings against Dallas (22-5) and both games against Boston (22-4). They have yet to face San Antonio (24-3) and will get their first look at the Lakers (21-7) on Saturday.
"We're 30 games in and these elite teams have been together for a long time so there's going to be games where we beat elite teams and there's going to be games we're going to lose," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said.
"That's why we play the regular season of 82 games so we can get prepared for when it's money time, the playoffs and we're there and ready to be able to compete for seven games vs. any elite team in the NBA."
The Mavericks were able to stop the Heat's winning ways by mixing in their stifling zone defense and a stingy man-to-man. The Heat made just 41 percent of their shots and launched 31 three-pointers, albeit making 11.
More importantly, the Mavericks were able to prevent the Heat from getting out and running in transition, something they have grown accustomed to during the winning streak. Miami scored just five fast-break points.
"That zone doesn't allow you to get many fast break points," Heat star LeBron James pointed out.
The defense by the Mavericks has been what has helped them win 15 of 16. While the Heat rank first in the league in scoring defense, Dallas ranks fifth as it keeps teams on their toes by playing more zone than any other team in the league.
"They keep you off-balanced and when you only have a day or two days to prepare for it, it gets you off-balanced definitely," James said.
James struggled in the first half as he was held scoreless while taking three shots and battling through foul trouble, picking up three fouls by the break.
Meanwhile, in the Dallas locker room, head coach Rick Carlisle gave his team words of encouragement because their sparkplug, Jason Terry, was also scoreless at the break on three shots with the team trailing just 44-43.
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"Look guys, we're down one and Jet hasn't even scored," Carlisle told his team.
"He's still at the hotel."
Terry responded by saying he thought the bus was at 8:45. It's a good thing for Dallas that Terry wasn't at the hotel in the fourth, when he scored all 19 of his points, including a key three-pointer with 1:26 left to give his team an 89-85 advantage.
The Heat got within one with 56 seconds left, but Shawn Marion hit three free throws to stretch the lead back to four. Chris Bosh and Wade each missed three-pointers in the final minute.
"They shot 31 threes, a couple of them went in and out especially down the stretch," Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki said. "We got a little lucky."
James finished with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists. His two Super Friends -- Wade and Bosh -- scored 22 and 19 respectively. Mike Miller made his Heat debut and missed all four of his shots in four minutes of action.
The Heat have a big week ahead of them as they travel to Phoenix (13-14) on Thursday to face a team they easily beat 123-96 back on Nov. 17 followed by the Christmas Day showdown at the Lakers.
After the Lakers game, the Heat won't see any of the top four teams in the league until February with a matchup against Boston, winners of 13 straight.
They won't see Orlando (16-11), the three-time Southeast Division champ, until Feb. 3. The two teams have split their first two games of the series.
Orlando made headlines over the weekend by acquiring Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu, and Earl Clark. They shipped out Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, Marcin Gortat, and Mickael Pietrus.
"They're loading up," Terry said. "Looks like everyone is trying to load up nowadays because they know what it is going to take, the type of personnel you have to have to be able to compete on a night-in and night-out basis in this league. You can't do it with two superstars, you have to do it with three, then four, and then you've got to have a bench."
The Heat will look to get back to their winning ways against the Suns and avoid back-to-back losses for the first time since Nov. 20-24 when they lost three straight.
"We have 52 more games to get this ship right," Wade said.