The Miami HEAT face the Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena. Tip-off is set for 7:00 PM, and television coverage is on FOX Sports Sun. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
1: Looking back on the loss to Minnesota, what do you think is the lasting lesson from that night?
Couper Moorhead: The most glaring issue for the HEAT Sunday evening was their 19 turnovers. For as well as they’ve been playing lately, even with the injuries they’ve sustained, they don’t have a large enough margin for error to be able to afford that many empty possessions – especially empty possessions which lead to plus-value scoring possession for the other team. This was true a year ago, a month ago and is still true today.
But this specific game was more about Karl-Anthony Towns than anything else. The HEAT threw all sorts of different coverages at him and Towns made the right play just about each time, finding shooters when he was double teamed, attacking the rim when his team needed a bucket and patiently reading the floor. It was as complete a game as he might have ever played, and when a player of that talent level is playing at his peak it’s usually going to be the difference between a win and a loss.
Joe Beguiristain: It was just a tough game for the HEAT, who found themselves in an uphill battle for most of the evening. And while Miami had some solid spurts throughout the contest — particularly in the second quarter thanks to Justise Winslow and in the fourth due to Tyler Johnson and Kelly Olynyk — the team just couldn’t put it all together. As Coup mentioned above, the turnover bug reared its ugly head once again and Karl-Anthony Towns came through with one heck of a performance despite some stout defense from Hassan Whiteside at times.
It sounds simple, but sometimes you just have to tip your hat and live with the results when an elite offensive player has one of those nights regardless of what you throw at them.
2: Having played Cleveland so recently, do you expect anything to change about this meeting?
Couper: The Cavaliers are still dealing with a ton of injuries – though they could be getting some bodies back on the floor soon – and they still have the worst-ranked defense in the league by a decent margin so, no, not much is likely to change Wednesday night. This game is still about the HEAT playing to their formula, playing their pace, with their defense, and manufacturing what they can, with plenty of threes, offensively.
Cleveland did hang around for a spell thanks to some hot three-point shooting which allowed them to do a little bit of damage to Miami’s zone, but once those shots stopped falling in the second half the HEAT were able to pull away. When you win by 24 points, you do the same thing until the opponent makes you change.
Joe: Not necessarily.
In that last meeting on Dec. 28, the HEAT took full advantage of the Cavaliers’ vulnerability inside and scored 60 points in the paint. It wasn’t just one or two guys either, as seven Miami players reached double-figures in scoring. Seven. You also might remember that Winslow had a field day at the rim that last time out against Cleveland and nearly recorded a triple-double with 24 points, 11 boards and seven assists.
And while that past success doesn’t guarantee anything, you can expect the HEAT to attack the basket and exploit mismatches inside once again.
3: What does the potential return of Dion Waiters mean to the HEAT?
Couper: While Waiters isn’t guaranteed to play Wednesday night, he did make the trip with the team and as of this writing was listed as questionable, with Erik Spoelstra saying there is potential for him to make his return. Whether or not Wednesday night is the night, it’ll be tough not to feel some joy after a player has essentially had a full year of his career ripped away from him. Rehab is no joke, as any player who has been through something similar will tell you, and coming out of the other end of it is a real accomplishment.
Once Waiters is back on the court, it will be interesting to see how he is absorbed into the rotation. Unlike a James Johnson who can return and slide right back into his usual role, the team’s guard rotation has changed a bit since Waiters last played. Waiters’ backcourt running mate, Goran Dragić, is out after undergoing knee surgery, Justise Winslow is the starting point guard and Dwyane Wade returned last season while Waiters was out. Like Wade, and like Winslow in the last few weeks, Waiters plays a high-usage, shot-creating and playmaking role and it can be tricky figuring out the right combinations when the context of the team has changed and all the data you might have used before to inform your decisions isn’t quite accurate anymore. Waiters being back is absolutely a good thing for a team that has needs on the offensive side of the ball, but players who use volume possessions do change your team and your rotation. So, it might take a little time and, as Spoelstra said at practice, patience on all sides as everyone figures this out.
Joe: It means Erik Spoelstra has yet another dynamic playmaker he can put out there. And with all the depth Miami has on the wing, Spoelstra should be able to ease Waiters back into things and see which guys the 27-year-old works best with. Coach Spo said as much after practice on Tuesday when he stated that Waiters’ return won’t be like James Johnson’s. (Remember, JJ was inserted right back into the fray.) The rotation has changed quite a bit since Waiters last saw the floor over a year ago and mimicking game speed in practice is difficult, so it definitely makes sense for everyone to remain patient.
But once Waiters gets into a rhythm again, watch out. He can get to the rim with ease, hit tough shots from the perimeter and defend with discipline.
It’s almost time for “Philly Cheese” to make his return.
- The HEAT have won five of their last seven against the Cavaliers, including a 118-94 victory on Dec. 28.
- Miami is 17-18 on the year, while Cleveland enters the contest at 8-29.
- Dwyane Wade needs just one 3-pointer to become the third player in NBA history with at least 20,000 points, 5,000 assists, 4,000 rebounds, 1,500 steals, 800 blocks and 500 three-point field goals made.
- Jordan Clarkson leads the Cavaliers in scoring at 17.1 points per game.
- HEAT Offense: 106.4 (22)
- HEAT Defense: 105.8 (8)
- Cavaliers Offense: 105.5 (25)
- Cavaliers Defense: 115.2 (30)