The Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat, two teams expected to be in the thick of the Eastern Conference's playoff race, meet on Christmas day.
When: 5 p.m.
Where: American Airlines Arena - Miami, Fla.
Music: A Christmas F*cking Miracle - Run The Jewels
This will be the first game the Cavs play without Anderson Varejao. In case you missed it, Varejao is done for the season with a torn Achilles tendon. Obviously, this is a huge blow for a Cavs team that was already thin up front and lacking a true impact defender manning the middle.
It's entirely possible, and perhaps likely considering David Griffin's past statements about staying aggressive to improve the roster, that this will be one only a few games the Cavs are thin up front. In the past, the Cavs have been linked to Denver's Timofey Mosgov and Memphis' Kosta Koufos. There are other options as well, whether they come via the free agency scrap bin or a trade that utilizes the the Cavs' $5.2 million dollar trade exception.
But for now, the Cavs we see today will be some sort of resemblance of the Cavs sans Varejao. Expect both Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson to log heavy minutes and for Shawn Marion to see some extended minutes as a small-ball four. Coach David Blatt will probably turn to Brendan Haywood or Lou Amundson at some point as well.
This is also LeBron James' return to Miami. Much has been made of James' return to South Beach and rightfully so. James only played four years with the Heat, but he did win two titles and was clearly the best player out of the "Big Three". Along with James Jones, LeBron will be honored with a 60-second tribute video before the start of the game.
It'll be interesting to see how the Heat crowd reacts to James. If this video from Hot Hot Hoops' Hayley Byrnes is any indication, there will be some hostility towards LeBron mixed in with some pregame cheering.
Both the the Cavs and Heat could use this win. As of right now, both Cleveland and Miami would be in the playoffs - Cleveland would be the fifth seed, while the Heat would be the seventh seed. Only five games separate the two teams and while it's still too early for us to fully predict who is bound or the playoffs, wins and losses add up.
The context of the current situation for both teams are important too. Chris Bosh will be out for the Heat and, as mentioned above, Varejao will be out for the Cavs. If Miami can ride Dwayne Wade and Luol Deng to win over a team ahead of them in the standings, it can give them a little bit of traction and as they try to towards the upper half of the conference. For the Cavs, a win gets you closer to the Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls and pushes you into post-Varejao life on the right foot.
Fear The Sword's Fearless Prediction
The Cavs should have an advantage the Heat in most every area. Expect the Heat to make it close for stretches, but the Cavs are just a better team and not having Bosh makes Miami a lot easier to defend. Cavs 102, Heat 94.