Miami Heat at Cleveland Cavaliers game preview
The Cleveland Cavaliers reached the quarter-pole of the season, which is typically when teams begin to make self-evaluations, but coach Tyronn Lue isn’t ready to do that quite yet.
Despite being the defending champions and holding the best record in the East, Lue still doesn’t think the Cavs are a finished product. Therefore, now isn’t the time to make any grand assessments.
"It’s going to take more than (20 games)," Lue said. "Until we get a backup point guard. When we get a backup point guard, we can understand what our rotation’s going to be. We don’t have to switch it on a night-to-night basis, so our team can get in a better flow."
Cleveland enters its home game against the Miami Heat on Friday muddling by just fine. The defensive problems seem to be fixed, with the team allowing a total of 60 points in the paint the last two games after averaging more than 51 allowed in the previous five.
The Cavaliers set a season-high with 22 3-pointers in their win Wednesday at the New York Knicks, and they’re doing it all without J.R. Smith, whom Lue has referred to as his best perimeter defender and is their best 3-point shooter.
Smith remains sidelined with an injured left knee. He missed the game against the Knicks because of it and isn’t expected back against the Heat.
Miami is dealing with its own injury concerns. Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and former Cavs guard Dion Waiters all remain sidelined with injuries. Rookie Rodney McGruder twisted his ankle in Wednesday’s loss at Atlanta and needed to get the ankle re-taped, although he was able to return.
All the injuries cleared a path for Tyler Johnson, who scored a career-high 27 points in the Heat’s loss at Atlanta on Wednesday.
Johnson is tough, physical and fearless when he’s driving to the basket.
"That’s the way he’s always been," coach Erik Spoelstra told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "Look at his grill. That’s why he’s missing teeth. He’s going to put his chin in there at all times on both ends of the court. That does give your team confidence. You want as many guys on your basketball team that just love competition, that love to lace them up and not think about any type of excuses or anything."
This will be the first time LeBron James will see his old team without Dwyane Wade on the other side. At 7-15, the Heat are already fading out of the playoff picture in the East and the days of the Heatles seem a distant memory.
This trip will serve as a reunion tour for Udonis Haslem, the last remaining member of those championship teams. After playing James and the Cavs, the Heat will face Wade and the Bulls on Saturday.
"It’s always easy for me to think about how special that time was," Spoelstra told the Sun-Sentinel. "Look, I think it’s 20-plus years I’ve been with the Heat. Every single one of those years, we approached the season to contend for a title. But you’re also experienced to know that doesn’t always happen. When you do have a team that’s special like that, you know pretty quickly that it’s different. So when we get to Cleveland, I’ll think about those thoughts."