The Miami HEAT host the Cleveland Cavaliers Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Get your tickets now! The HEAT defeated the Cavaliers 106-98 in their last meeting on March 6. Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 7:00 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
1: What did you take away from Miami’s highly necessary win in Washington?
Couper Moorhead: At this point, how the team plays is almost secondary to whether they win or lose – a different message than we usually send given how much attention we give to the process in this space. In winning while Chicago lost at Brooklyn, the HEAT and Bulls remained tied and Miami still has a decent shot at a playoff spot. That’s the most important thing.
But within the game itself there were some important developments. Josh Richardson was a demon in transition, defensively, as he stymied John Wall over and over to the point that the Wizards scored just 97.7 points per 100 when Wall was on the floor. Washington averages 16 fast-break points a game and Miami held them to just eight thanks to Richardson’s effort.
Hassan Whiteside, on the other hand, might have had the single best game of his career. Yes he’s had more statistically impressive games and nights when dunks come in bunches, but in this one he simply found ways to impact winning at every opportunity whether it was deflecting passes, managing pick-and-roll spacing, scoring efficiently in the post or attacking the glass – not to mention a game-saving switch onto Beal in the final seconds. You might have a more favorite performance, but this might have been his most complete given the stakes.
Joe Beguiristain: Grit. Hustle. Heart. All of it was on display in yet another must-win game for the HEAT on Saturday night. As Erik Spoelstra has alluded to in the past, his team wants to make the playoffs badly. If you need more proof of that, all you have to do is take a look at the massive team hug when the clock hit zero against the Wizards.
As usual, Miami fought tooth and nail with a Washington team that, at the time, was also fighting for playoff seeding. With a lot at stake, there were 17 lead changes and 15 ties on Saturday night. Since Coup already mentioned the sharp play of Hassan Whiteside (who amassed 30 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks and a plus-10 rating) and Josh Richardson (who forced John Wall to shoot 5-of-18 from the field and commit eight turnovers) I’ll get into James Johnson’s performance.
Johnson started his third straight game in place of the injured Luke Babbitt and made some huge plays down the stretch to ensure the victory. In the final 2:40 of the game, the forward came up with a key steal on Markieff Morris, threw down a massive dunk, hit the game-winning layup and grabbed a defensive rebound after Whiteside blocked Bradley Beal on the final possession. That kind of two-way play is almost expected from Johnson at this point, which tells you that he should strongly be considered for the Most Improved Player award.
2: What does the playoff picture currently look like?
Couper: The HEAT sit in the No. 9 spot, tied with Chicago, one game back of No. 7 Indiana and two games back of No. 6 Milwaukee. With Atlanta’s incredible comeback victory over Cleveland on Sunday, the Hawks are now out of reach for Miami meaning the highest seed attainable is No. 6 – and a matchup with Cleveland, Boston or Toronto.
So what does Miami need to happen? If they can go 2-0 against the Cavs and Wizards (who might rest players Wednesday with their seed locked in), then either the Pacers (@ Philadelphia, vs Atlanta) or Bulls (vs Orlando, vs Brooklyn) going 1-1 is enough to get in. If Miami goes 1-1, they’ll need one of those two teams to lose out. Either way, most scenarios involve one of Indiana or Chicago losing at least one game.
There is one backdoor scenario where both Chicago and Miami win out, which involves Milwaukee losing its last three games and the Bulls missing the playoffs due to the three-team tiebreaker.
Regardless, all Miami can control is how they play in their next two games. Playoff odds and scenarios only matter if you win.
Joe: Since the Bulls have the tiebreaker over the HEAT, Chicago is currently in the final playoff spot despite having the same record as Miami. Indiana, meanwhile, is sitting at No. 7 with a 40-40 record.
While the HEAT’s best chance at making the postseason involves them winning their final two games, they also need some help from either the Bulls or Pacers. You should know by now that Miami has the toughest remaining schedule of the three (especially since the Cavaliers just blew a 26-point lead in the fourth quarter against Atlanta on Sunday) but the Wizards might rest their guys on Wednesday since they’re locked into the No. 4 seed.
Like I always say though, the HEAT just need to take care of their own business and let the chips fall where they may. James Johnson echoed that sentiment after Saturday night’s victory.
“We’re not worried about the standings,” Johnson said. “We’re worried about these next two games and taking care of that. And however the chips fall after we take care of what we can take care of, we can live with. But we can’t live with giving somebody else the option of getting us out.”
3: Can we apply anything from the previous wins over Cleveland to Monday night?
Couper: Assuming Cleveland plays all its usual players (barring Tristan Thompson, who is dealing with a thumb injury) as it continues to fight for the No. 1 seed in the conference, then there probably isn’t much to draw on. In the first game of that March series, the Cavs didn’t play anyone. In the second game, Cleveland was still missing Kevin Love and JR Smith while the HEAT were without both Tyler and James Johnson.
Now, both Dion Waiters and Josh McRoberts have been upgraded to Questionable for Monday night so we won’t know quite what the lineups look like especially given that James Johnson has been starting lately. But the player who really changes things in this matchup is Love. Johnson is the ideal player to guard both James and Love, but there is only one of him. Put Johnson on James, and now you have either Rodney McGruder or Josh Richardson giving up size in the post to Love. Same goes for having Johnson on Love. Both Richardson and McGruder have been up to the challenge of defending larger players, but it’s a disadvantage for them however you look at it.
Let’s just forget about how these teams have played each other in the past and enjoy this one for what it is. This should be NBA drama at its best, and you can’t ask for much else this time of year.
Joe: For all intents and purposes, we can throw out the March 4 game since LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love didn’t play. James and Irving rested, while Love was out after undergoing minor knee surgery. The following matchup, however, featured James and Irving and the HEAT still came away victorious thanks to the sharp play of Goran Dragić and Dion Waiters. Speaking of Waiters, he was upgraded to questionable on Sunday afternoon. That said, it’s unclear as of this moment if he will actually suit up.
Getting back to what we can apply to this matchup, one glaring issue with Cleveland that’s been prevalent since the All-Star Break has been its defense. In their last 25 games, the Cavaliers have tallied a 111.2 defensive rating (only the Lakers have been worse since the break). We’ll see if Miami can take advantage on Monday night.
INJURY UPDATES: LeBron James (right calf strain) and Kyrie Irving (left knee tendinitis) are listed as out. Kevin Love (illness) is listed as questionable.
March 6-HEAT at Cavaliers
March 4-Cavaliers at HEAT
- The HEAT have won two of three and are 39-41.
- The Cavaliers have dropped two straight and enter the contest at 51-29.
- In his last three games as a starter, James Johnson is averaging 21.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists per contest on 55.8 percent shooting.
- LeBron James leads Cleveland in points (26.4), assists (8.7) and steals (1.2) per game.
- HEAT Offense: 105.0 (17)
- HEAT Defense: 104.1 (5)
- Cavaliers Offense: 111.2 (3)
- Cavaliers Defense: 107.9 (22)