The Cleveland Cavaliers might be the team that finishes second in the East, but that might also mean playing a first round series against the Miami Heat. For the second time this season they’ve lost in South Beach, with Dwyane Wade outplaying his former teammate LeBron James, having one of his weakest performances in quite some time.
James seeing the “come back” signs in the stands stood in contrast to getting booed by some fans after a big dunk on Chris Andersen didn’t make him better. The Heat walked away with a 106-92 win, their second over the Cavs this season (both in Miami), as James was outscored by 17 points during his 35 minutes, shooting just 8-of-19 from the field to score 26 points. Kyrie Irving wasn’t too hot himself after scoring 90 points in the previous two games, shooting 33.3% from the field to finish with 21 points. Suddenly, missing Kevin Love does make a difference.
Dwyane Wade rose to the occasion, as he has on multiple opportunities this season. He scored 32 points that went with five steals, and provided plenty of highlight plays, including this behind the back pass to Goran Dragic (not ending with a basket unfortunately) and getting Udonis Haslem to act like Chris Bosh at the end of the game, photobombing his victory interview with a pair of bunny ears.
Besides Wade playing like there are no knee problems and he isn’t an again veteran past his prime, there was Goran Dragic with 20 points and 9 assists, once again showing how well the Heat can split the point guard duties between their two guards, 16 for both Mario Chalmers and Hassan Whiteside and 11 from Luol Deng, who always managed to make it difficult for James, getting plenty of help this time from the players behind him.
No one knows James better than the Heat, and forcing him to try and win the game on his own is a tactic always worth pursuing. Sure, he can go off and burn you with 35 or more points, but James is more dangerous, and his team is as well, when his operating in the facilitator mode, free to make decisions on whether or not to move the ball to open players or do it on his own. The fact that he was playing with a point to prove probably pushed a bit more towards the selfish category.
The loss doesn’t hurt the Cavaliers as much as it helps the Heat, fighting for their spot in the NBA playoffs. After the win, they are at 30-36, meaning at 8th in the East, tied in games behind the Hawks (22.5) with the Pacers (7th) and Celtics (9th), while the Hornets at 29-36 and even the Brooklyn Nets at 27-38 still have say in the matter. The Heat are operating in a very different mode to what they were expecting when this season began, but things change, and they have a chance to have some sort of positive spin on the outcome.
The Cavaliers are a different team as well compared to the beginning of this season. Mozgov, J.R. Smith, Shumpert. Kevin Love is taking less and less an active part of this offense. James is often taking a step backwards in favor of Irving. No more Dion Waiters sulking on the bench. David Blatt seems to have passed through his test of fire. This isn’t a perfect team, not even close. But they’ve changed enough to present a package worthy of consideration for the NBA title, and one loss in Miami isn’t going to change that.