Miami HEAT at Cleveland Cavaliers Game Preview
Photo Credit: David Liam Kyle
The Miami HEAT face the Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena. The HEAT fell to the Cavaliers 108-97 in their last meeting on Nov. 28. Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 7:00 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
1: What did you like about Miami holding off a furious comeback rally from the Mavericks on Monday?
Couper Moorhead: It wasn’t always pretty but as they’ve done time and time again the HEAT found a way to grind out a close victory in the final minutes, with Goran Dragić helping to seal the win with a timely cut to the rim off a somewhat chaotic last-minute play. The HEAT will want to sort out some of the turnover issues that bit them in the fourth quarter, with Dallas dialing up the defensive pressure, but much of the comeback felt like natural progression to the mean as Dallas simply started hitting shots. With some of the open threes Dallas was missing, it was a game meant to be close down the stretch anyways rather than the double-digit lead Miami had going.
The HEAT are now 22-11 in games that are within five points in the last five minutes, the most such wins of any team in the league. Those games, more than almost anything else, have become the story of Miami’s season.
Joe Beguiristain: While the HEAT probably could have closed out the game a bit better, I liked how they continued to show mental toughness down the stretch. With the Mavericks getting hot late in the fourth quarter, Miami didn’t panic and let Josh Richardson run the offense on the play Coup mentioned above that sealed the deal. Richardson’s ability to make plays like that in crunch time has been so important this season, as it allows Goran Dragić to play off the ball and gives the opposition a different look.
Another thing I liked from Monday night was the HEAT’s defensive disposition. In particular, Richardson and Dragić did a nice job on Dennis Smith Jr. and helped hold the rookie to just 4-of-17 shooting and forced him into five turnovers. Of course, Justise Winslow and James Johnson also did their thing against Harrison Barnes throughout the contest. In fact, JJ led Miami with 11 shots contested and four deflections.
Long story short, it was another collective effort for the HEAT.
2: Is there anything from the loss to Cleveland in late November that should inform Wednesday night’s matchup?
Couper: With the HEAT down 26 at halftime and by as much as 34, the last game in Cleveland was as forgettable as any game this season. The lone bright spot was something of an eye-opening performance from Bam Adebayo at he went 7-of-7 from the floor.
The main issue for Miami, outside of LeBron James who is always the main issue for every team, was that Kevin Love scored 22 points in the first quarter, hitting quick spot-up threes, scoring inside and getting to the free-throw line. It was a tough matchup at the time for Hassan Whiteside given it came when Cleveland was starting Love at center, but given that the Cavaliers moved recently to start Tristan Thompson once again that means there should be a much more normal matchup on the floor with James Johnson defending Love.
Joe: Although that last matchup on Nov. 28 was a tough loss for Miami on the road, Bam Adebayo had himself a night to remember. Not only did he score a career-high 19 points on a perfect 7-of-7 shooting, but he also had an impressive defensive sequence against LeBron James late in the second quarter.
That said, the main issue for the HEAT that last time out was actually on the defensive end, as the Cavaliers shot 61.7 percent in the first half and were able to maintain a double-digit lead for the rest of the game. As Coup mentioned above, Kevin Love really set the tone in the opening quarter, but James wheeled and dealed his way to four assists in the second period to help build Cleveland’s lead.
After averaging a career high in dimes last season, James has upped his production to 8.8 assists per game this year. Thanks to the 33-year-old’s phenomenal playmaking ability, the Cavaliers are near the top of the league in offensive efficiency once again. We’ll see if Miami can lock in defensively this time around.
3: What about Cleveland’s recent swoon, of sorts, could come into play?
Couper: As of last week the Cavaliers were sporting the league’s worst-ranked defense, allowing nearly 110 points per 100 possessions. Since then they’ve stabilized a bit having moved Thompson into the starting lineup and beaten both Indiana and Detroit headed into a second matchup with the Pistons Tuesday evening. But while they might be headed in the right direction defense is still clearly their primary weakness, meaning the HEAT can get themselves consistent good looks all evening if they run their offense with a purpose.
In a strange sense, the Cavaliers are playing the same sort of occasional lineup roulette as Erik Spoelstra is with Miami, keeping some groups the same for consistency but fluctuating between the transitional lineups – how to get from a starter-heavy lineup to a bench group – depending on matchups and what is working at the moment. Cleveland is still incorporating Isaiah Thomas into their system, which means the HEAT might be able to take advantage of any miscues that come from that continued feeling-out process.
Joe: While Cleveland has played better of late, the team still struggles mightily on the defensive end. In addition to ranking near the bottom in defensive efficiency, the Cavaliers also give up a ton of looks from beyond the arc and allow the opposition to shoot a very high percentage at the rim. As such, the HEAT could have a lot of success with their drive-and-kick game on Wednesday night.
Whenever you play such a high-octane offense like Cleveland, you have to be able to score because you won’t be able to stop everything. If Miami’s slew of ballhandlers (Dragić, Richardson, JJ and Winslow) can get into the paint and collapse the defense, things should work out just fine.
INJURY UPDATE: The Cavaliers announced that Kevin Love suffered a non-displaced fracture in his left hand fifth metacarpal against the Pistons on Tuesday.
- The HEAT have won two in a row and are 29-21 on the year.
- The Cavaliers have won two of three and are 29-20.
- Hassan Whiteside leads Miami in rebounds (11.9) and blocks (1.8) per game.
- LeBron James leads Cleveland in points (26.7), assists (8.8), steals (1.6) and blocks (1.1) per game.
- HEAT Offense: 103.2 (25)
- HEAT Defense: 104.1 (7)
- Cavaliers Offense: 109.9 (4)
- Cavaliers Defense: 109.8 (30)