Miami HEAT at Cleveland Cavaliers Game Preview
Photo Credit: David Liam Kyle
The Miami HEAT face the Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena. The HEAT defeated the Cavaliers 124-121 in OT in their last meeting on April 10. Tip-off is set for 7:00 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 6:30 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
1: What stuck out to you the most about Miami’s victory in Chicago?
Couper Moorhead: Well, there was a somewhat slow first quarter in which the HEAT scored seven points that we’ll just go ahead and never mention again. Beyond that, however, Sunday was notable because for the third straight game Miami’s primary bench unit of Wayne Ellington, Tyler Johnson, James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk plus a starter had a major impact on a win. That group, with Goran Dragić, was so good Sunday that Erik Spoelstra ran with them for the fourth quarter as a Bulls runs was held off.
It wasn’t always the most glamorous of talking points but Miami’s bench was always one of the most important parts of last season’s second-half turnaround. The makeup of that group is a little different with Olynyk instead of Willie Reed but as long as they defend consistently and continue to generate and put up good looks from three, they’ll be a major luxury for this HEAT roster.
Joe Beguiristain: Miami’s overall ball movement and offensive execution in the fourth quarter really stood out to me. While the team didn’t have an insane amount of assists like it did against Minnesota, there were a handful of possessions where the ball was moving from side-to-side in order to get the best possible shot. As such, Wayne Ellington took advantage once again and nailed five treys on the afternoon.
With things getting close in the fourth quarter, Goran Dragić (who won Eastern Conference Player of the Week on Monday) and James Johnson combined for 25 of the HEAT’s 36 points in the period. Johnson attacked the basket supremely well, while Dragić mixed things up and nailed a dagger three with 49.8 seconds left to play.
Over Miami’s three-game winning streak, six players are shooting 50 percent or better from the field. That’s all due to the team’s improved ball movement.
2: With the changes to their roster, how have the Cavaliers been playing this season?
Couper: The most obvious change Cleveland made was trading Kyrie Irving to Boston in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Brooklyn’s upcoming first-round draft pick. So far, Thomas has been sidelined with a hip injury and only Crowder has played. Cleveland also added Derrick Rose, currently not with the team, Jeff Green and most notably Dwyane Wade in the middle of training camp. Wade started the first few games of the season but has since been playing mostly off the bench.
The Cavs suffered a four-game losing streak earlier in the season which left them at 3-5 at one point, but they’re on an eight-game winning streak. They’ve dealt with a variety of injuries and the ensuing lineup changes, but their winning streak has coincided with a defense trending toward the upper third of the league after a tough start. It wasn’t the smoothest opening to the season, but the Cavaliers appear to be back on their usual track.
Joe: While the Cavaliers got off to a slow start during the first two weeks of the season, they’ve turned things around in a big way recently and have won eight straight. And with LeBron James leading the charge, would you expect anything different?
Even with Kyrie Irving out of the equation, Cleveland is still one of the best offenses in the league. Although James is the main reason for that (he was just four assists shy from his second-straight triple-double on Monday), Dwyane Wade has upped his production off the bench during the team’s winning streak. In fact, the 35-year-old has averaged 12.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game over that time span with a little more playing time due to Derrick Rose’s absence.
With the Cavaliers also improving on the defensive end of late, they’re looking like a well-oiled machine at the moment. If that trend continues, there’s no reason to believe they won’t be one of the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference once the regular season is over.
3: What matchup do you think the HEAT can attack Tuesday night?
Couper: It depends. Iman Shumpert returned to Cleveland’s lineup Monday night against the 76ers, but he came off the bench. If he returns to the starting lineup on Tuesday, he’ll be a fairly big defender for Goran Dragić to navigate. Should Shumpert not start, however, the Cavs are likely to start Jose Calderon – a matchup Dragić should be able to pursue.
Whoever starts as the nominal point guard – we all know the primary ballhandler is going to be James, especially in the absence of Thomas – Tristan Thompson is also out which means Love will start out against Hassan Whiteside. That’s such a size advantage for Whiteside that they could go after the post, but even though Love is a better defender than he’s often given credit for it will still be a challenge to contain Dragić if Miami’s spacing is on point. Of course the HEAT have to defend Love on the perimeter on the other end, with Jae Crowder spacing the floor as well.
Joe: I think the HEAT can find some success with Hassan Whiteside going up against Kevin Love and Channing Frye. Since Love and Frye aren’t that strong on the defensive end, Whiteside should be able to roll to the rim and get some of his usual dunks. As long as the 7-footer remains ready for the catch in the post and stays active throughout, it could be a big night for him.
Another matchup I’m intrigued to see is Tyler Johnson versus Wade. Wade witnessed Johnson’s ascension first-hand before going to Chicago in the summer of 2016. It’ll be cool to see the two go head-to-head at certain points like they probably did numerous times in practice as teammates.
- The HEAT have won three straight and are 10-9 on the year.
- The Cavaliers have won eight straight and are 13-7.
- Six Miami players are shooting 50 percent or better from the field over the team’s three-game winning streak.
- LeBron James leads Cleveland in points (28.6), assists (8.5) and blocks (1.2) per game.
- HEAT Offense: 101.5 (25)
- HEAT Defense: 102.8 (10)
- Cavaliers Offense: 109.9 (4)
- Cavaliers Defense: 108.2 (27)