Miami at Cleveland
Time: 6 PM CT, NBA TV
Spread: CLE -4
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Cleveland Cavaliers have got it together. Yes, we knew it would happen sooner or later, but do not look now as LeBron James and the Cavs have won eight-straight games to surge to a No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference, early though it is. Cleveland now hosts the Miami Heat at 6 PM (CT) on NBA TV, as 4-point favorites in a game with an over/under of 208 points.
James and the Cavaliers have managed to get hot without the return of still-injured star Isaiah Thomas. Thomas came to the Cavaliers over the summer at the cost of superstar Kyrie Irving, but he has dealt with an injured hip since last season. In his stead, the Cavaliers now also face the potential (and likely) retirement of newly acquired Derrick Rose. Rose is still dealing with his fall from superstardom, quite poorly, apparently. He now figures to hang it up, which does leave the Cavs in something of a predicament given the lack of talent and depth at the 1-spot.
Has it mattered? Hardly.
James is tallying 8.5 assists per game, and Dwyane Wade still has plenty left in the tank in dishing 3.9 per night in just 23 minutes a game. While Wade’s decline is fairly stated, his talents are not evaporated entirely yet, and he is still (probably) the best guard on Cleveland’s roster. That speaks to the issues in the backcourt, but with James functioning as the primary ball handler and often manning the point guard spot, the issue is something of a non-plus, hardly affecting Cleveland over its recent stretch of winning basketball.
Former Minnesota Timberwolf superstar Kevin Love has done well as a No. 2 option, promoted in the wake of Irving’s departure and trade. Love is averaging 17.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game while posting a PER of 22.1. James is over 30 (PER). It is just that outside of that star tandem, there are so few reliable sources of offense and production for Cleveland.
Veterans Jeff Green and Jae Crowder have done an admirable job spitting time on the wing, and the combination accounts for 19.1 points per game, which cannot be understated. Though the Cavs lack premier talents around James, he is still the best overall player in the NBA, and Cleveland is going to be there when the season reaches its conclusion. The Cavaliers have made back-to-back Finals appearances, and while Boston and Detroit still linger ahead of it in the standings, few are ready to discount Cleveland’s early struggles as anything but a transition and growing period for a roster that is different enough from last season as to require the gelling-time.
Beyond that, once Thomas finally does return to the lineup, the Cavaliers will be adding a 28 point per game scorer–defense be damned.
The 5-foot-9 guard certainly leaves plenty to be desired on the defensive end, but he is a clutch shot-maker and deadly threat in fourth quarters. It is not hard to envision James and he became an unstoppable 1-2 combo in finishing teams off down the stretch. However, for the meantime, Cavs fans suffer in watching Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith, both having poor seasons, shooting erratically. It is just no real cause for alarm if we are being realistic about what James does (coast during the regular season only to punish opponents in the postseason).
The Miami Heat have won three-straight, too, however, to improve to 10-9 on the season and pass teams that were expected to be behind them in the standings. Behind Miami sits New York, Milwaukee, Charlotte and Orlando—teams that the Heat all realistically do stand better than. Of course, having a premier defensive center like Hassan Whiteside and a still-very-effective ball distributing and scoring guard like Goran Dragic is mostly why.
The Heat most recently defeated Boston, Minnesota, and Chicago in its streak, with the Boston game serving as a rather loud statement that last season’s best second-half team cannot be so easily dismissed. Dion Waiters has not been quite the “alpha dog” he voiced himself to be while decrying a potential Carmelo Anthony addition, but he is still a scorer waiting to be unleashed.
At 15.2 points per game, it is not hard to envision Waiters as a 20-plus point per game scorer, but he is shooting a mere 40 percent from the floor. Waiters does lead the Heat in field goals attempted per game at 15.1, but given his overall versatility and hot shooting, that number should figure to trend upwards still. To speak like an alpha, think like an alpha, there is something missing with Dion: Playing like one.
We recall his game-winning antics last year, the chest beating—and Miami seeks to beat its chest as underdog victors tonight. While the hype continues to center on LBJ, the Heat are not devoid of talent, by any stretch of the imagination; and, Erik Spoelstra is still one of the game’s true masterminds as a coach.