The Miami HEAT face the Cleveland Cavaliers Friday night at Quicken Loans Arena. Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM, and television coverage is on FOX Sports Sun. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
1: What led to Miami’s home loss to the Clippers?
Couper Moorhead: Erik Spoelstra made the most astute observation of the night when he noted that it was almost a complete reversal from Miami’s win in Los Angeles, when they pulled away in the fourth quarter as the Clippers’ offense stalled out and scored just eight points in that final period. It wasn’t quite as dramatic Wednesday night, but after an 18-point third quarter the HEAT just couldn’t put enough stops, or good open looks, together to mount much of a comeback. Strange though it was with the Clippers playing on a back-to-back, it was not a second half played on Miami’s terms as the Clippers, so reliant on jumpers in the first half, were earning dunks while the HEAT were struggling to get downhill against a switching, one-on-one defense. It’s a second half that’ll be worth re-watching and reflecting on a team that knows its own win conditions as well as any team.
Joe Beguiristain: Although the HEAT got off to a quick start offensively, they couldn’t sustain it in the second half. And on the flip side of the ball, they had some trouble containing Tobias Harris, who utilized screens very well and hit jumper after jumper.
That said, a few guys emptied the tank for Miami, including Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson. While trying to retrieve a loose ball in the third quarter, Richardson crashed into the HEAT’s bench and followed that up with a monster one-handed jam shortly thereafter. Johnson, on the other hand, scored a team-high nine points in the fourth and drew two charges in the first period.
Simply put, Miami needed more of that on Wednesday night.
2: Has there been anything of significance in the season series with the Cavaliers to date?
Couper: Miami won the two games by margins of 25 and 24 points despite Cleveland shooting well from three in both. So, no, this isn’t a particularly complex matchup at the moment. If the HEAT play to their identity, they should be just fine. That doesn’t guarantee success, but this series is more about how the HEAT perform than it is about anything Cleveland is doing differently to disrupt them.
Joe: With the Cavaliers owning the worst defense in the league by a wide margin, the HEAT have just taken care of business against a team they should beat. One thing to note, however, is the absence of Tristan Thompson this time around.
In the first meeting between the two squads on Dec. 28, Thompson was out and Miami proceeded to score 60 points in the paint. And while the HEAT still comfortably won the next matchup with Cleveland even though TT was in the lineup, paint points weren’t as easy to come by. Then again, Miami did shoot an absurd 16-of-31 from deep in that game on Jan. 2.
Long story short, this matchup is all about the HEAT taking advantage of a porous defense.
3: With three games coming up against teams that are outside of the playoff race, how important is this stretch?
Couper: This is a good opportunity to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. With the Brooklyn Nets surging – and Caris LeVert returning eventually – and Charlotte playing its usual brand of steady ball, the HEAT currently sit No. 8 in the Eastern Conference, 1.5 games ahead of the Detroit Pistons, who themselves are only a game up on a Washington Wizards team playing well in the absence of John Wall. And if you go by strength of schedule, the HEAT are about to enter their toughest stretch of the season beginning after these three games.
It’s a very important stretch, then. Give yourself a cushion and you can afford a slip or two when the schedule, with a ton of games on the road, toughens up. But don’t take care of business against team headed toward the lottery and you could possibly set yourself up for an uphill climb toward the postseason down the stretch. Given how that’s gone for this team in recent years, they know as well as anyone the benefits of positioning yourself as the chased and not the chasing.
Joe: As Coup mentioned above, this upcoming stretch is very important for Miami.
After Friday night’s game against the Cavs, the HEAT will face the Knicks at The Garden and the Bulls in Miami before a tough back-to-back set against the Thunder and Pacers (though Victor Oladipo is now out for the season) and a long West Coast road trip.
As such, it’s imperative that Miami remains focused on the task at hand and just worries about the things that it can control, such as preparedness and effort.
We’ll see how it all shakes out.
STATUS UPDATE: Dion Waiters (Illness) did not participate in Friday morning’s team shootaround and is listed as questionable.
- The HEAT have won three straight against the Cavaliers, including a 117-92 victory on Jan. 2.
- Miami is 22-24 on the year, while Cleveland enters the contest at 9-40.
- Hassan Whiteside has grabbed double-figure rebounds and blocked multiple shots in the same game 22 times this season, tying for the third-most in the league.
- Jordan Clarkson leads the Cavaliers in scoring at 16.7 points per game.
- HEAT Offense: 106.4 (22)
- HEAT Defense: 106.6 (6)
- Cavaliers Offense: 105.3 (25)
- Cavaliers Defense: 117.3 (30)