On Monday night, the Miami Heat will take on the reigning NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers. The Heat defeated the Cavaliers on Saturday with a 120-92 rout in Miami, and will play their series finale at the Quicken Loans Arena.
The Cavaliers decided to rest both All-Stars Lebron James and Kyrie Irving — which led to an undermanned starting lineup of Iman Shumpert, Tristan Thompson, James Jones, and recent acquisitions Kyle Korver and Deron Williams.
Goran Dragic led Miami with 23 points on 9-12 shooting and was 4-5 from three. He also added five assists while holding Williams to just 10 points on 4-11 shooting. Hassan Whiteside notched his fifth consecutive double-double of 20 points (9-14 FG) and 13 rebounds. Tyler Johnson (17) and Wayne Ellington (12) both followed with double-figures off the Heat bench. Channing Frye led the Cavaliers with 21 on 9-12 field-goals and 3-5 from outside.
Miami hit a season-high 18-34 threes in Saturday’s win, which marks their second-highest total in the franchise’s 29-year history.
After a knotted-up first quarter — where the game was tied at 35 — Miami began to pull away, scoring 32 in the second quarter and 34 in the third. And even though this resulted as a blowout, the game didn’t exactly end hand-in-hand.
Cavaliers shooting guard J.R. Smith, who’s been out since December 20th following thumb surgery, presumably had words towards Heat rookie Rodney McGruder. What actually initiated Smith to jump from his seat, was as soon as McGruder finished a one-handed putback slam over Frye, McGruder gave him a hard slap on his back afterwards.
And even when the game ended, players and coaches had to separate Smith and McGruder, avoiding any physical altercation between them. It appeared that Heat shooting guard Dion Waiters was also involved, as he had words of his own for Smith, causing him to further approach in his direction. J.R. was eventually restrained by security and was quickly escorted back to the locker room.
This draws an interesting storyline leading up to Monday’s game in Cleveland, as the Cavaliers will have another shot to play Miami. And even though Smith still isn’t quite ready to play, one will wonder what could be said between him and any Heat players. The NBA reported earlier that there will be no disciplinary actions for Smith’s words after Saturday’s game, which I can agree on.
But there were of course other times on Saturday where both teams began to get physical with each other, and one should expect the same feel for this one.
As the Cavaliers currently hold the highest seed in the Eastern Conference (42-19) nothing would initiate conversation around the league, than a hobbling yet highly-motivated Heat team being able to knock off the defending champs on their own court. With Irving and James returning, it does make it more unlikely for the Heat to win by a blowout of any means. But this is must-watch basketball if you’re wishing for a grind-it-out matchup.
Following the game, Sun Sentinel reporter Ira Winderman asked veteran sharpshooter Ellington if the Heat ‘poked the bear’ after the events had taken place:
“I think we definitely woke them up.” Ellington told Winderman. “We have another level where we want to get to as well, so we want to step-up to the competition.”
Most players on both teams iterated that the incident after the game didn’t mean much, which and its probably true. However, there’s no disregard of Monday’s game being one of greater meaning, and that’s for both teams.
The Boston Celtics are three-games behind the Cavaliers for the first-seed in the Eastern Conference, and with the regular season beginning to wind down, positioning will be important, and the Cavaliers should have the intention of keeping a tight grip. It’ll be important, before playing nine of their next twelve games on the road.
But on Miami’s side, to watch head coach Erik Spoelstra and the Heat fight to turn around a 11-30 record of disparity, to now within slight reach of capturing the eighth-seed, a win over the Cavaliers would authenticate their efforts.
Both teams need a win, and I don’t believe it’ll be easy for either of them.
Quick note: Andrew Bogut will make his Cavaliers debut on Monday.