The Cleveland Cavaliers are primed for the first of two games on the road against the Miami Heat. Winning these matches will be equally important for Miami and Cleveland as both teams jockey for playoff position.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers (41-26) vs. Miami Heat (35-31)
Where: Miami-Dade Arena — Miami, Florida
When: 7:30 p.m. EST
TV: Bally Sports Ohio
Spread: CLE -2
Opposing Blog: Hot Hot Hoops
Cavs’ expected starting lineup: Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Isaac Okoro, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen
Cavs’ injury report: None
Heat expected starting lineup: Gabe Vincent, Max Strus, Tyler Herro, Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo
Heat injury report: Kevin Love (right rib injury), QUESTIONABLE; Kyle Lowry (left knee soreness), OUT.
Facing Kevin Love
A familiar face will be taking the court to play against the Cavaliers. Kevin Love will be competing against his former team for the first time since his abrupt departure in February, assuming he can go. The 34-year-old veteran joined the Heat in hopes of playing a larger role than he was receiving in Cleveland.
The Cavaliers had recently moved Love out of the rotation before the buyout agreement. Cleveland opted to give Love’s minutes elsewhere due to his limitations on defense and diminishing returns on offense. This was the point of contention for Love’s decision to leave the franchise and his motivation to get back to business on another playoff-contending team.
In six games with Miami, Love is averaging 7.5 points and 7.3 rebounds. He is still struggling to shoot the ball, connecting on just 25.8% of his 3-point attempts. Yet, Love has started in all six of his appearances and is playing more than 20 minutes per game with the Heat – granting his wish of having a bigger on-court role this season.
Love is questionable to play tonight with knee soreness but will have another chance to play his former team in just two days. In this case, the Cavaliers will enjoy an opportunity to be on the other end of the fold, targeting Love in pick-and-rolls relentlessly when he is on the court. The Cavs know Love’s weakness on defense and will be sure to attack him every chance they get.
Two struggling benches
Bench droughts are nothing new to the Cavs and Heat. Both teams have struggled to get enough production from their second units this season and it could be the difference maker in tonight’s game. The Cleveland bench is 29th in points per game and 27th in offensive rating. On the other side, Miami’s second unit ranks 28th in points and dead last in offensive rating.
Cleveland’s first man off the bench, Caris LeVert, has been an odd fit. He’s having one of his best seasons as a three-point shooter, playmaker and defender – but he is shooting the lowest field goal percentage of his career and has been unable to provide the scoring spark this team needs from the second unit.
The same goes for Dean Wade and Ricky Rubio, two key pieces of the Cavaliers’ bench. Rubio has successfully returned from an ACL injury but has yet to replicate his scoring magic from last season, averaging just 4.9 points on 32.6% shooting from the floor. His value as a playmaker is blunted by his pairing next to LeVert as they both leave Cleveland’s need for scoring absent.
In an ideal world, Wade would have been the one to replace Love’s production as a floor spacer. But placing in the second percentile for usage rate is not getting the job done. With Wade’s reluctance to shoot the ball, J.B. Bickerstaff has resorted to more limited players such as Lamar Stevens – who may not have as much offensive potential, but who will at least change the game with his physicality.
The Cavs and Heat suffer from a lack of spacing but have hung their hats on the defensive end. Both teams rank in the top five for defensive rating and will be prepared to grind it out tonight if their second units fail to show up.
Using the size advantage
In the likely event this game turns into a defensive battle, using their size advantage will be key for Cleveland.
Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen give the Cavaliers a luxury each night. The two seven-footers are as agile and versatile as any frontcourt in the NBA and most opponents are not able to match their size or athleticism. Together, Allen and Mobley help push Cleveland to the 11th-best defensive rebound percentage.
The Heat do not have the same size as Cleveland but they have been equally effective on defense. Bam Adebayo is undersized at 6’9” but is one of the most difficult players to score on while Jimmy Butler serves as their jack-of-all-trades on the wing. Miami ranks seventh in defensive rebound percentage despite their height.
Taking care of the glass could be the difference-maker tonight. In their first meeting, the Cavaliers dominated 49-30 on the boards for an easy victory. More recently, the Heat outrebounded Cleveland 45-39, including a last-minute putback from Adebayo that sealed a 100-97 win for Miami.
Donovan Mitchell set to make history
It didn’t take long for Donovan Mitchell to make himself at home in Cleveland. In his first season with the Cavs, Mitchell is already in a position to set a franchise record for most 3-pointers made in a single season, currently held by J.R. Smith.
Mitchell is one three-pointer away from claiming the record. Barring a bad miracle, Mitchell will sink his 205th three of the season to pass Smith and etch himself into the Cleveland history books.