The struggling Cleveland Cavaliers (6-9) must go to Miami where they will face the reigning Eastern Conference Champion Heat (11-5).
In some ways, both teams are having similar starts to their seasons as they had last year. The Cavaliers started off showing some spunk, winning games here and there, threatening the .500 mark, before the wheels came off.
The Heat started off better this year than they did last year, but they come limping into their first game with Cleveland, a team not exactly having things go as smoothly as they had hoped.
Of course, we all remember what happened in last year’s December 2nd matchup. The Heat sparked their season back into form and never looked back. The Cavaliers never looked back either. They just allowed defeat into their hearts and went on to set an NBA record losing streak.
So what’s going to happen this time? Will the results be the same? Probably. Look, the Heat are a vastly superior team to the Cavaliers and the game is in Miami. The Cavaliers should lose this game. Who’s going to defend LeBron? Can Antawn Jamison disrupt Chris Bosh? How can the Cavs possibly slow down the Miami transition game when the Heat are so good at forcing turnovers and the Cavaliers are so turnover prone?
Well, ok, you get the point. The Cavaliers should lose this game. But as Bowers so astutely pointed out over the weekend, it’s not about winning. It’s about the performance you give out there on the court. This is no time for the Cavaliers to panic or to give up on this season. We’re not even a month into things yet. The Cavaliers have issues to iron out, sure. So do most teams. The Cavaliers just have less talent than most teams. This is nothing to get worked up about. But there has to be some effort shown.
The Heat will be without Dwyane Wade once again. Erik Spoelstra will use a starting lineup of Mario Chalmers, James Jones, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Joel Anthony. That gives a glimmer of hope to the Cavs. Rather than chasing Wade all over the court, Anthony Parker now just has to stick like glue to James Jones on the perimeter. LeBron’s focus on playing in the post has been inspiring to see this year. He finally seems to get it, and he’s been punishing smaller defenders in the post, particularly in the 4th quarters, all year long. Omri Casspi best be ready to have his hands full with his post defense tonight.
The Cavaliers will feature a starting lineup of Kyrie Irving, Anthony Parker, Omri Casspi, Antawn Jamison, and Anderson Varejao. You could actually make an argument that the Cavaliers have positional advantages at PG and C. Chalmers is a decent enough PG and Norris Cole has raised eyebrows, but Kyrie Irving is having a better season than either of those guys. Anderson Varejao sometimes struggles defending bigger opponents for long stretches, but Varejao has clearly been better than Anthony this year.
The Cavaliers need to find a way to exploit these weaknesses. If they play Miami straight up, the Heat will win easily. The Cavaliers need to start to do a better job taking advantage of positional matchups and opponent weaknesses. I expect to see LeBron helping out on Irving a lot tonight. LeBron doesn’t mind defending the point and with Casspi’s struggling offensive game, it’s just that much easier for him to do.
I’ve written in the past about how many players actually see their efficiency plummet when joining LeBron, and that continues to be the case with Shane Battier who is by far having the worst season of his career. With the exception Mike Miller (who has played really well in his 4 games), the Heat bench is pretty short. Cole, Udonis Haslem, Eddy Curry, Terel Harris have all been decent, but with Wade out, the Cavs’ bench needs to be a huge plus. Tristan Thompson’s ankle will be something to watch. The Cavaliers could really use his size and energy against the Heat bench.
Forget about all the nonsensical side-stories surrounding this game. It’s all a bunch of rubbish. This is just a regular season game between a great team and a bad team. But the bad team has some quality young players who we continue to watch develop and grow. I like watching them play these kinds of matchups. It shows us how far the rookies have come and how very, very far they still have to go.