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Miami Heat look to bounce back vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

When the Cleveland Cavaliers visit the Miami Heat on Friday night, it’s hard not to mention the player neither team has any longer.

That would be LeBron James, who won two NBA titles with the Heat before jilting them in 2014. He also won one NBA title with the Cavs but left them at the proverbial altar twice, in 2010 and 2018.

James left a mess behind him in Cleveland, where the Cavs (8-27) have lost four straight games and have the worst record in the NBA. The Cavs’ dismal season is putting them in position to get the first pick in the 2019 NBA Draft and a chance to select Duke power forward Zion Williamson.

Things are not quite so dire in Miami, where the Heat (16-17) will enter Friday’s game in the eighth and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference.

The Heat owned the NBA’s longest active win streak at five games until they blew a 17-point, third-quarter lead on Wednesday, losing 106-104 to the league’s best team so far, the Toronto Raptors.

“You’re going to lose games in this league — that’s fine,” Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade said. “It’s the way you bounce back from those losses. The last few times we’ve had losses, we’ve bounced back pretty well.”

The Cavs, given their futility this season, will likely give Miami every opportunity to bounce back.

Cleveland, for example, is averaging just 102.3 points per game, the third-worst figure in the league.

Power forward Kevin Love, who leads the Cavaliers in scoring (19.0 points) and rebounds (13.5), has managed to play just four games this season due to toe surgery in November.

Tristan Thompson, who is averaging 12.0 points and 11.6 rebounds, is out due to a sprained foot.

One other Cavs injury of note — shooting guard Rodney Hood also has a foot injury and has missed two straight games. He is questionable for Friday’s game.

Miami’s injury issues are limited to its backcourt, where All-Star point guard Goran Dragic is expected to miss several weeks due to knee surgery. In addition, shooting guard Dion Waiters, who has yet to play this season following ankle surgery, is practicing but is apparently not yet ready to return.

With Dragic out, the Heat has made a surprising move that so far looks good. Justise Winslow, a 6-foot-7 forward who was the 10th overall draft pick out of Duke in 2015, has led the Heat to a 4-1 record since making the switch.

Winslow, a fourth-year pro who is only 22 years old, is averaging 11.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists. He is a dynamic defender who has struggled at times with his shooting.

But his effective shooting percentage has improved from .371 percent as an NBA sophomore to .474 percent last season and .484 so far this season.

“A lot of good things are happening,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said when asked about Winslow.

One of the matchups to watch on Friday will be Winslow against Cavaliers rookie point guard Collin Sexton, the eighth overall pick out of Alabama in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Sexton, known for his speed and quickness, is averaging 14.9 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists. And, in his most recent game, Sexton had 16 points, five rebounds and six assists in a 95-87 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.

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