The Cleveland Cavaliers won the first of two battles against the Miami Heat, squeezing out a 104-100 win Wednesday night. As the playoffs inch closer and closer, both Cleveland and Miami will have a bit more of an edge with seeding on the line.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers (42-26) vs. Miami Heat (35-32)
Where: Miami-Dade Arena — Miami, Florida
When: 8:00 p.m. EST
TV: NBATV, Bally Sports Ohio
Spread: CLE -1.5
Opposing Blog: Hot Hot Hoops
Cavs’ expected starting lineup: Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Isaac Okoro, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen
Cavs’ injury report: Mamadi Diakite (OUT - G League assignment), Isaiah Mobley (OUT - G League assignment), Dylan Windler (OUT - G League assignment)
Heat expected starting lineup: Gabe Vincent, Tyler Herro, Jimmy Butler, Kevin Love, Bam Adebayo
Heat injury report: Kyle Lowry (PROBABLE - right rib), Kyle Lowry (OUT - knee), Nikola Jovic (OUT - G League assignment)
What to Watch for
Shorter, Better Bench?
The Cavs went with a playoff-esque rotation with just three guys coming off the bench: Lamar Stevens, Caris LeVert, and Ricky Rubio. Stevens saw 26 minutes, LeVert had 24, and Rubio logged 22. The trio combined for 18 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists, and were a net +/- of minus nine. That group seemed to fit the flow of the game and the opponent well. Miami is not a high-powered offense, so it made sense to have the energy and rebounding of Stevens out there. J.B. Bickerstaff likes LeVert, so it is unlikely to see him skipped in the rotation. Rubio played his best game in quite some time with four assists, his most since February 11th. The passing looked good and he knocked down a three, which is a welcome sight. He still looks slow, and maybe that will just have to be the new norm, but overall I came away a little more positive about Rubio’s role on this team.
That being said, it would not be surprising to see Bickerstaff run with another eight-man rotation. Miami can grind out possessions and make life difficult defensively, so guys like Cedi Osman and Dean Wade may not be able to hang.
Isaac Okoro’s Offense
Okoro scored 13 points yesterday, his most since Feb. 5 against the Pacers and his first double-digit effort since Feb. 6. The offense is always under intense scrutiny, but the first game of this back-to-back against Miami showed some good tendencies. Right after drilling a corner three (his first of three that game), Okoro made a smart cut to come to the dunker spot and was ready for the dump-off pass from Jarrett Allen.
In a game against the Heat, who are a defense-first team, Okoro is necessary as a perimeter defender and athlete to get up and down the floor quickly. He added two steals and was a game-high +9, but the little offensive wrinkles are a bright spot and help open things up for the rest of the offense.
The Cavs are just 2.5 games behind the Philadelphia 76ers, and three games above the New York Knicks. If the season ended today, the Cavs would be hosting the Knicks. With the next two games for Cleveland a back-to-back with the lowly Charlotte Hornets, the Cavs should have a little extra giddyup for this game against Miami. The Knicks are not far behind the Cavs, and maintaining homecourt advantage in a playoff series should be the priority for Cleveland.
Miami has quite a bit to play for. Right now, they are clinging to the seventh seed just 1.5 games above the Atlanta Hawks, who may have a tad more energy under Quin Snyder. The Heat certainly would like to catch the fighting Brooklyn Nets and avoid the play-in tournament, but the Cavs can make that pathway a little rockier with another win in South Beach.