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For perspective’s sake, the last time the Cavaliers won in Miami, Shaquille O’Neal was the team’s leading scorer, followed by Daniel Gibson. That (one-point) win on South Beach came on January 25, 2010 – with the Heat running off 17 straight home wins from there.
The Heat have been outstanding at home this year against every team – compiling a 22-3 mark at AmericanAirlines Arena. But tonight, they’ll be competing with a feisty Cavaliers squad coming off two straight wins and looking to turn the season’s tide for their new head coach J.B. Bickerstaff.
On Friday night in D.C., Bickerstaff’s first game at the helm was an impressive comeback road win over a squad that went into the Break having won five of seven. The Cavaliers trailed for most of the night, but behind Collin Sexton and Tristan Thompson’s huge late efforts blew past the Wizards for their second straight win and 12th in their last 16 visits to our nation’s capital.
As good as the Heat – who come into the contest as the East’s 4th-seed – have been at home, they’ve been less than average away from Miami – going 13-17 on the road, dropping five of their last six, including a Thursday night loss to the Hawks in which Trey Young went off for a career-high 50 points.
The Cavs have dropped both decisions to Miami this season, including a 24-point drubbing at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse back on November 20.
Jimmy Butler has found a home in Miami, and the five-time All-Star is having another excellent campaign. He’s averaging career-highs in rebounds and assists, a solid 20.6 scoring mark and taking the mantle of Miami’s unquestioned leader after the retirement of Dwyane Wade, whose jersey gets retired on Saturday night.
In his ninth year out of Marquette, Butler has been a very good defensive team’s best defender and top offensive threat – posting four 30-point games and 25 of 20 or more so far this season.
One of those 20-point games came in Miami’s November 20 win in Cleveland, but the Cavaliers have done a good job containing him this season. He went 3-of-16 from the floor (but 13-of-13 from the line) in that 21-point effort and finished with 14 points on 7-of-11 from the floor (with no free throw attempts) in the Heat’s win on November 14.
Cedi Osman – coming off a strong shooting night in D.C. – will start out on Butler on Saturday night.
If Butler’s been Mr. Consistent, the same can’t be said for the young Cedi, who slumped into the Break but came out on the other side with a 16-point effort on Friday night, canning his first five shots and first three threes – doubling up with 10 rebounds in the win.
Osman’s had that issue against Miami this year, finishing with 12 points and seven boards in the first meeting but just three points on 1-of-6 shooting and one rebound in the second. But Cedi has tasted some success against the Heat – going off for a career-high 29 points against them late last January.
Although the No. 13 overall pick – Tyler Herro – could still be out with an ankle injury suffered before the Break, tonight’s teams feature some of the more impressive rookies from this past June’s Draft.
Herro, who was averaging 13.1ppg this season, injured his right ankle on February 3 and has been out since – with his injury allowing Collin Sexton a spot in the Rising Stars Challenge. The Cavs will not be upset by his absence; in two games, the sharpshooter from Kentucky has averaged 19.0 points, shooting 65 percent from the floor, 55 percent from deep.
The undrafted Kendrick Nunn has been even more impressive this year, although he looked to be hitting the Rookie Wall a bit before the Break. He’s had 11 20-point outings this year and a pair of 30-point games. In Miami’s November 14 win at RMFH, Nunn led both squads with 23 points and his squad with eight boards.
Darius Garland came up big in the fourth quarter last night in D.C., scoring eight of his 15 points down the stretch. Overall, he went 7-of-11 from the floor, canning a pair of triples to go with four assists.
With another two triples on Saturday night, Garland will become just the second Cavs rookie in franchise history – joining Collin Sexton (119) – as the only freshman to hit over 100 threes in a season.
Kevin Porter Jr. had a clunker in 13 uneventful minutes off the bench on Friday, but went into the Break on a nice run – averaging 16.1 points over his last seven games, shooting 52 percent from the floor and an even 50 percent (16-of-32) from long-range.
In his third game against the Heat, he’ll be looking for his first double-digit scoring game tonight on South Beach.