If the season ended today, one possible opponent for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round would be the Miami Heat. The East below the Cavaliers and Raptors is a bit chaotic still - the No. 8 seed Bulls are just five games back of the No. 3 seed Hawks - but Miami seems poised to come out looking strong in the East's messy center. They also figure test the Cavs on Saturday.
Plus, LeBron James used to play for the Heat and is friends with Dwyane Wade. That may get mentioned on the broadcast once or twice.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Miami Heat
When: 7:30 p.m.
Where: American Airlines Arena - Miami, Florida
TV: 7:30 p.m.
Enemy Blog: Hot Hot Hoops
Music: War Ready - Rick Ross featuring Jeezy
- Since the All-Star break, the Heat have been good. They have the league's fifth-best net rating over that span and are 10-5 since the break ended. Perhaps most impressively, Chris Bosh - who is probably their best player - has been out with a blood clot in his leg. What Miami has done since the All-Star break is one of the most interesting stories in the NBA of late.
- In that span, the Heat have embraced an interesting form of small ball that might be able to push the Cavs in interesting ways. With rookie Justise Winslow and veteran Luol Deng, the Heat have two big wings who operate interchangeably defending threes and fours. If the Heat choose to, they can try to attack the Kevin Love up front with this duo. It'd be better if Winslow was an adequate shooter - he's shooting 25.7 percent from deep this year - but he's already really good. Hassan Whiteside, as enigmatic as he is, has been putting it together of late too and he's helped them have a top-10 defense since the All-Star break.
- Goran Dragic has been pretty good for the Heat of late too. Since Bosh has been out, Miami's played at a faster tempo and Dragic has thrived. Dwayne Wade has been predictably good too and with Joe Johnson offering some scoring outside - he's shooting a blistering 57.6 percent from deep and 56.5 percent overall since joining Miami - the Heat do a lot of different things that can press other teams. If Bosh can return, and he can adapt to this style a bit, the Heat might end up as the biggest threat to Cleveland in the East.
- For the Cavs, this game will be a test. They weren't sharp against the Magic despite winning and the Heat had Friday off. Miami's small ball will test the Cavs' defense and their style isn't one that the Cavs can just roll through. This, frankly, is going to be a tough game to win.
- The good news is that Miami is beatable and the Cavs have a clear path to doing so. Love should be able to post-up either Deng or Winslow and it'd be smart of the Cavs to give him some touches inside if/when he is matched up with one of those two. Winslow also won't really take advantage of Love's defensive flaws, so Love can probably play against these small lineups and not compromise the entire defense.
- Expect Channing Frye to be used against Whiteside and Amare Stoudemire. He can create space for everyone else with his shooting and the Heat's defensive isn't built like it was when LeBron played for them. It's more conservative now and one hole created by space could be fatal.
- Everyone from the Cavs is expected to play. The one question is if Timofey Mozgov will start at center. My guess is yes because the Cavs seem to want to stick with him, but at this point, Frye and Tristan Thompson are better options against a team like Miami.
Fear the Sword's Fearless Prediction
This game will be close and come down to the fourth quarter. Expect the Cavs to pull away late and pick up another win on the road. Cavs 102, Heat 96.