udonis-haslem_web.jpgMIAMI (AP) — For the first time since the shortened 1998-99 season, the NBA finalists from one season will open the following season against each other.

Heat forwards Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem appreciate the irony.

The NBA has made it official — again — saying Friday that Miami will visit the Dallas Mavericks on Christmas Day, this time in the season-opener for both clubs. The Mavericks are expected to raise their championship banner before the game.

The matchup is no surprise. It was also part of the NBA's initially released schedule, the one that had to be changed considerably because of all the time lost during the recent lockout.

“I think everybody did it on purpose. But, you know, whatever, for the ratings, right?” Bosh said Dec. 1, working under the assumption the long-awaited matchup would still happen as planned. “I use it as motivation. I know they're going to be pumped up. It's the worst time to be at home for me. But everything happens for a reason, so we're going to have to watch it, take it all in and just use that as fuel for the rest of the season.''

Dallas beat the Heat in six games in last season's finals, winning the title on Miami's home floor.

Chicago beat Utah in the 1998 NBA finals, then opened the next season on Feb. 5, 1999, against the Jazz — although that was a much-different Bulls team,

following the retirement of Michael Jordan at the end of what was the franchise's sixth championship run. Before then, the last time finalists from one year played Game 1 of the next season against one another was 1957, the Boston Celtics and St. Louis Hawks, according to STATS LLC.

Clearly, emotions will not be in short supply in Dallas on Dec. 25.

Haslem said that the Heat have been dealing with the pain of losing the finals throughout the entire offseason. But when asked what the chance to see Dallas in Game 1 of this season — assuming the new collective bargaining agreement actually gets done like the league and its players plan — the Miami native didn't add much in the way of hyperbole.

“I don't remember what happened last year,” Haslem deadpanned. “To me, it's just the first game on the schedule, an opportunity to get out there and do what we love to do. … It's going to be a great matchup. It's going to be fun.''

Photo: Udonis Haslem