After a well-earned overtime win against the Milwaukee Bucks on November 21, the defending champion Miami Heat next face the young Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland will be without a key piece of its offense, as second-year point guard Kyrie Irving is out with a broken finger. Of course, Miami will look to take full advantage of his absence.
Miami may have the advantage against Cleveland on paper, but the Heat can't afford to get cocky against an inferior team. The Cavaliers may not be best in the standings, but they have some scrappy young players capable of going off and taking over a game in the blink of an eye.
Rookie guard Dion Waiters is proving to be a fine shooter and has made 41 percent from long range this season. In Cleveland's November 5 victory against the talented Los Angeles Clippers, he scored 28 points and was 7-of-11 from downtown.
Miami will thus have to watch out for him and leading rebounder Anderson Varejao, because the Cavaliers come to South Beach tonight and will stop at nothing to pull off an upset victory.
Time: Saturday, November 24th, 7:30 p.m. EST
TV: Sun Sports, Fox Sports Ohio
Records: Cleveland Cavaliers (3-9) vs. Miami Heat (9-3)
Betting Lines: Cleveland Cavaliers (+15), Miami Heat (-15), via Bovada
Injuries: Kyrie Irving (finger, out), Rashard Lewis (illness, expected to play)
Key Storyline: Can Miami Stay Perfect at Home?
As they have been since their Big Three was formed, the Miami Heat have performed better at home than they have on the road. It has been even more true this season, as the team is undefeated at American Airlines Arena.
Perfection almost came to an end Wednesday night against Milwaukee, as Miami needed overtime to defeat the young Bucks, 113-106. Rookie John Henson was able to grab 18 rebounds off the bench and provided the Heat frontcourt with a great battle in the paint.
The young Cavaliers aren't as talented as Milwaukee, but their victory against the Clippers shows how determined they are to play spoiler. That game was in Los Angeles, so there's no reason to believe that they won't be able to do the same in Miami.
Still, an upset is not going to be easy by any means. The Heat are the defending champions for a reason, and they are deep enough to the point that their offensive attack can be unpredictable. Be it LeBron James or Dwyane Wade, this team has multiple weapons that can be used to their fullest extent.
With a perfect home record on the line, Miami will surely be in overdrive from start to finish.
Key Matchup: Chris Bosh vs. Anderson Varejao
If there's one way to beat Miami, it's in the paint. Chris Bosh has the size to play center at 6'11", 235 pounds, but he is more of a scorer first and often struggles against bigger, more defensive opponents. He is averaging 20 points per game this season, and his 8.3 rebounds per game seem low for someone at his position.
Bosh won't have an easy battle tonight, as he's going to be up against the NBA's leading rebounder in Anderson Varejao. The two are both 6'11", but Varejao weighs 260 pounds and is known for his pesky defense. He is averaging 14 boards per game and has shown improvement in the scoring department at 14.4 points.
This is where Cleveland needs to beat Miami in order to have even a remote shot at victory. All three of the Heat's losses have come against teams with centers superior to Bosh: the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies.
Bosh is talented but just doesn't have the build or the defensive skill set to keep up with pure defensive players at the 5. He has averaged 9.3 rebounds over his team's three losses but has still struggled against bigger and better players like DeAndre Jordan and Tyson Chandler.
This makes his matchup against Varejao all the more important, as an inconsistent defensive game could doom Miami's perfection at home.
X-Factor: LeBron James
A game against the Heat must get the adrenaline pumping for all Cavaliers fans, as a win is just another way to stick it to LeBron James. After being the star in Cleveland for seven years, James opted to join the Miami Heat in an infamous televised decision. It was a heartbreaking moment for all Cavs fans and instantly turned the perennial All-Star into the least popular man in the city.
As a result, the Cavaliers have since seemed to always play a little bit harder against the Heat. It's as though the fans' hatred of James is channeling through them.
James simply must play past this and use his fine set of skills to every advantage. He is the reigning MVP and is having a fine start to the season, averaging 24.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game.
All past relationships with Cleveland aside, James is the X-factor simply because he is the best player in the NBA. If he is having a bad game, an easy win for Miami instantly turns into a battle that is anything but a guaranteed victory.
Bosh is going to have his hands full trying to beat Varejao in the paint, and that leaves only Wade as the viable go-to guy who can put up a lot of points in a hurry if James is off. Even he is not a lock to have a good game, despite scoring 28 points against Milwaukee. Wade is just coming off a foot injury, and there is always the possibility that it may flare up during tonight's game.
James is thus going to be the man who makes or breaks Miami's chances of winning. If he can set up some plays that will give Bosh a distinct advantage against Varejao, or just keep the ball himself and be the man to carry the offense, then the Heat should have an easy night against Cleveland.
That will keep them perfect at home, not to mention further cement James' status as the best player in the game.
Cleveland fans may be hoping for an upset special, but it's just not going to happen tonight. Miami is too deep and too talented a team. The Heat's combined experience is going to turn this game into a blowout by the early minutes of the fourth quarter.
The Cavaliers will put up a respectable effort in the first half, with Varejao absolutely dominating Bosh in the paint and Waiters sinking some key three-pointers. Even backup point guard Jeremy Pargo, filling in for Kyrie Irving, will have a respectable game.
Who will win?
Sadly, it still won't be enough. After halftime, the Heat will come in with a new game plan and just overwhelm the young Cleveland squad. James and Wade will sink clutch shots, with Bosh maybe even nailing a three-pointer.
Even Ray Allen will come off the bench and have a phenomenal game. James will find a way to get him open for three-point shots, and Allen will hit many of them. He will score in double-figures and further add to his early case for Sixth Man of the Year.
Despite a respectable effort from Cleveland to start, this game is going to become just plain ugly. By the final buzzer, Miami will have handily defended their home court.
Miami Heat 114, Cleveland Cavaliers 89