For Cavs and Heat, it's a whole new world
CLEVELAND -- When the Cavaliers faced the Miami Heat on Christmas Day, things were different all the way around.
For instance, the Cavs started Shawn Marion and Mike Miller that day. Dion Waiters was on the team. The Cavs seemed lost, still finding their way. The last time the Cavs faced the Heat, the game was in Miami and the Cavs entered as losers of six of 10.
Now? Well, the Cavs (31-21) are rolling. They've won 13 of 14. They are suffocating opponents to around 92 points per game during the past month. They have added J.R. Smith, Timofey Mozgov, Iman Shumpert and a healthy LeBron James. Waiters is gone and Miller and Marion barely play.
"It will be a different matchup than it was last time," said Heat forward Chris Bosh. "They're gelling right now."
Bosh has become considerably more important to the Heat offense since James returned to Cleveland in July. And Bosh has indeed delivered. But overall, the Heat (22-29) have struggled in their first season since 2009-10 sans LeBron.
They look old-ish and as if they're breaking down. While they possess perhaps the NBA's nicest surprise in young center Hassan Whiteside, and up-and-coming rookie point guard Shabazz Napier, there's not a whole to get excited about.
Entering Wednesday's game in Cleveland (7:30 p.m., FOX Sports Ohio), the Heat hold the No. 7 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff chase. Only the top eight qualify.
On top of all that, this game won't hold nearly the emotion for either team. Christmas marked LeBron's return to Miami. Wednesday is merely just a game against LeBron's former team.
"It will be different, for sure," James said. "Our mindset is us continuing to play how we've been playing the last few weeks."
In other words, the Cavs are fairly confident this is a game they should win -- provided they do the things they've done over the past three weeks or so. They've moved the ball, they've defended, they've made winning plays. Every night, it seems, someone different comes up big. Most often, it's one of their Big Three of James, Kyrie Irving or Kevin Love. But now, they have Smith and Mozgov and even the underrated Tristan Thompson to provide a major lift.
For the Cavs, it's as if suddenly everyone understands their roles, and all the X's and O's on coach David Blatt's chalkboard are coming to life.
Meanwhile, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is still trying to figure out what type of mileage he can squeeze out of the likes of Luol Deng, Danny Granger, Udonis Haslem -- and even leading scorer Dwyane Wade, who will miss his seventh straight game with a hamstring injury. The Heat have lost four.
"I was very eager to get back on the court," Wade said of the decision to miss Wednesday's game. "But long haul, we got a run to make after this All-Star break to solidify a playoff seed. It's not cocky of me, but I don't think this team is going anywhere if me or Chris isn't helping."
So, yes, things are quite different from Christmas Day, when the Heat beat James and the Cavs by a 101-91 count.
These Cavs aren't those Cavs, and this one isn't nearly the event. That comes straight from James -- and as a guy who's spent his entire illustrious career in either Cleveland or Miami, he should know.
"Obviously a lot of emotions went with it just being back in that building, around my old teammates and those fans (in Miami)," James said. "It was great. But obviously, both sides have moved on since then."