Coach's Corner: JOHN LUCAS ON CAVALIERS VS. HEAT
By John Lucas (As told to John Hareas)


John Lucas
The Cavaliers visit the Heat on Sunday, March 12, at 1 p.m. ET on ABC.

Cleveland heads down to Miami to try and slow the momentum that the Heat has been building over the last month or so, having gone 8-2 in February and continuing its winning ways into March as well. Miami is certainly hitting its stride and Shaquille O’Neal is beginning to assert himself even more, which is not good news for the rest of the league. Even more impressive has been their winning without Dwyane Wade, who had been out with a wrist injury. As a result, Miami’s confidence has only grown.

Class of 2003 draftees, James and Wade, meet again on Sunday.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
The Cleveland Cavaliers on the other hand, have been up and down, and have even underachieved a bit considering the talent that they have. Cleveland is going back and forth with its identity. They fluctuate as to who they are as a team. Where they are going to get their points consistently outside of LeBron James has been a question and a problem for them. They would like to go to Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Drew Gooden has been up and down. Flip Murray has been a great addition for them, but he is still feeling his way around as to where his points are going to come from. Finding that third consistent scorer has been tough. However, they seem to come around late in the game when LeBron begins to distribute the ball to his teammates more and more.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

One of the neat matchup questions to see answered is who Cleveland will put on Wade who certainly showed that his wrist is feeling all right, having posted 40 points in his return against Washington. I would go with Eric Snow on Wade and I would use Ilgauskas on Shaq in addition to the obvious double teams. When the bench enters the game, it will be interesting to see what Antoine Walker, Gary Payton, James Posey and some of the others bring to the contest. Posey will also be a nice matchup guarding James, whose playing time has been called into question lately due to the significant number of minutes he has been playing.

From working with LeBron during his junior year of high school I know him very well, and I have to say that fatigue isn’t an issue. The issue is him continuing to learn and build on his game. In the NBA, teams and players are always adjusting to each other. Right now LeBron is adjusting to the league. One of the gifts he has which makes him a special player is the fact that he can move the ball and not get caught up in having to hit big game shots. Recently he has seen that he can trust in his teammates with Flip and Damon hitting game-winning shots. If he trusts those guys, those middle of the lane shots when they are doubling him will stay wide open because people are going to be willing to stay with their guys rather than to help out.

X-FACTORS

Miami has identified how it is going to play. It is an inside-out type game with Shaq. Still, the play of Mourning and Walker off the bench can really change the complexion of the game. How many threes Miami can make off the double teams of Shaquille is also key, especially to a guy like Walker and some of their other shooters. Cleveland needs to make sure it plays at its tempo. The Cavs have got to run Miami, get in an up-and-down game and get some transition baskets. If Cleveland can get 20 transition points, they are going to win.

BOTTOM LINE

Both Miami and Cleveland want to have momentum heading into the playoffs. For the Heat, they want to continue their recent stretch of good play. As for Cleveland, a win over Miami would be a serious boost as both these teams could potentially meet in the second round of the playoffs. If the Cavs can win this game, then Coach Mike Brown may be able to identify a set rotation and have his team believe in an identity that they will play with for the rest of the season. No doubt each team wants to leave the other with something to think about.

-- John Lucas appears courtesy of the National Basketball Coaches Association