What’s up with the Cleveland Cavaliers?
The Cavaliers have struggled as of late. In the 10 games before the All-Star Break they were 8-2 and had a seven-game winning streak during that stretch. Since returning from the break, they’re 3-3 with losses to the Denver Nuggets, Atlanta Hawks, and Boston Celtics. An even record in the last six games isn’t bad for a lot of teams. But for a team like the Cavaliers looking for a deep run into the playoffs, losses to fellow contenders like that sting a little bit more.
On the bright side, Cleveland has strung together a couple of wins, with their latest coming against one of the top teams in their conference. They won a quick rematch against the Celtics, pulling out the W in OT.
Cleveland showcased in that game what’s been their biggest weapon this season. No, not Donovan Mitchell or Evan Mobley. It’s their defense that’s elevated them this season. They’re the best team in the league in terms of defensive rating allowing a little over 110 points per 100 possessions. In the win against Boston, they limited the Celtics to just 109.3 points per 100 possessions. The Celtics couldn’t buy a bucket in OT, scoring only five points on 12.5 percent shooting.
That defense is what the Cavaliers will bring to their battle against the Miami Heat. They’re out to lock-up the Heat and keep their winning ways going.
What’s up with the Miami Heat?
You know who’s not too bad defensively as well? The Heat. They’re fourth in defensive rating allowing only 112.3 points per 100 possessions this season. That’s of course expected from a team led by Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.
Although, you wouldn’t know that the Heat are one of the best at that aspect of the game basing it off their past few games. They’re 3-4 in their last seven games and have had a tough time containing their opponents. In their four losses, they allowed an average of 119.3 points per game, including 128 points to the Milwaukee Bucks, 119 points to the Philadelphia 76ers, and 122 points to the New York Knicks.
Those losses are given a special highlight because they came against the top teams in the East. Right now, Miami isn’t part of that group. They’re a fringe playoff team, two games away from the sixth seed. If they want to be one of the best in their conference, they’re going to have to tighten up their defense, especially against those beasts in the East.
That’s why this game against the Cavaliers is big for the Heat. They have a chance to turn their two-game win streak into a three-game run, effectively cutting into the lead of the sixth seed team in the East. More importantly, this is their chance to show that they do belong in the top tier of their conference. Taking down the fourth-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers is going to be a statement win for the Heat.
Storyline to watch out for
Mitchell and Mobley have been just as good as their team’s defense. In their last win over the Celtics, Mitchell racked up a 40-piece while Mobley dominated with a 25-17 line. Mitchell is averaging 34.7 points on 47.0 percent shooting in his last three games. Mobley has complemented Mitchell by controlling the paint. He’s averaging a 17-13 double-double with 2.3 blocks in his last three.
On the flipside, Butler and Adebayo are doing it all for the Heat. He might only be putting up 22.5 points per game in their last four games, but he’s also averaged 7.8 rebounds and dished out 6.0 assists during that same stretch. Adebayo is putting up similar numbers with a 21-7-4 line. He’s also averaging 1.3 steals and 1.5 blocks in their last four games.
Which duo will play better in the game? Can Butler shackle Mitchell? Will Mobley outplay Adebayo in the shaded area? These are the games within the game that will decide the outcome.
This is a toss up right now. Both teams are around .500 in their last few games and both are on two-game winning streaks. They also need this win for playoff purposes. The Cavaliers are looking to hold off the surging Knicks for the fourth seed while the Heat are looking to rise out of the play-in into the playoff picture.
That being said, the sense of urgency leans towards the Heat slightly. Cleveland isn’t in hot water yet. They’re still two games above the Knicks in the standings. Miami, though, is feeling… the heat. If they don’t win this game, they drop further out of playoff contention. For a team this proud, that’s not a place they’d want to be. That’s why this game is a virtual must-win for them.