After you're done celebrating Christmas morning, and probably gearing up for a dinner with family and friends, it will be about time for the big game we have all been waiting for. Christmas Day games are special for the NBA, and they choose them very wisely.
The Miami Heat will host LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the first time since James departed the Heat after four straight NBA Finals appearances. So, on the eve of what's the biggest game of the year so far, here's some questions and thoughts to get you ready for the game.
The Heat host the Cavs at 5:00 PM EST on Christmas Day on ABC.
1. What will the reception for LeBron James be like from the fans?
Dwyane Wade has publicly lobbied for Heat fans to welcome James with cheers. Wade made it clear that appreciation should be shown for what James helped the Heat do (advancing to four straight Finals and winning two NBA Championships). I think Heat fans will show appreciation to James partly due to Wade's request.
Expect most of Miami to give James a first ovation and appreciation, but once the game starts, don't expect there to be cheers for James. You'll probably hear some "oohs" in relation to something spectacular James does, and then the memories will sink in and we will all miss LeBron.
2. Will Chris Bosh play?
Probably not. Bosh has been out indefinitely and he hasn't practiced yet. Spoelstra is pretty adamant that players don't return to the court until they are ready and have gone through a contact practice. Bosh as of Tuesday hadn't done that. Although this game has been circled and Bosh would love to play, I don't see that as likely.
Without him, the Heat are really going to struggle. Andersen Varejao went down with an injury Tuesday for Cleveland and so that lightens the load for the Heat front court, but contending against Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and the rest of Cleveland will be a handful for Miami.
3. Can the Heat get out of their funk and play competitively?
The Heat have stunk lately. That was on display against the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday when Miami gave up a 23 point lead and lost to the Sixers for only their 4th win of the season. Without Bosh, the Heat have had trouble finding consistency. Meanwhile, the Cavs have won 12 of their last 15 games, and are finding a rhythm. They aren't overly impressive (they lost by 29 at home to Atlanta last week), but they bolster a lineup that makes you be creative.
I think the Heat's best chance is going to be playing off the high of James' return, and the Christmas atmosphere. On paper, the Heat (without McRoberts and Bosh) aren't going to be competitive very long. The Cavs should impose their will on Miami probably in the middle of the game and keep it around a 10 point lead. That doesn't mean the Heat can't win.
Every team in the NBA can win a game against anyone. If Miami gets solid contributions from their supporting cast of Norris Cole, Mario Chalmers, Shawne Williams and either James Ennis or Danny Granger they can be good. Oh, and Dwyane Wade has to play well also, but I think he will.
4. Are Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love better than Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh?
Yes, they probably are. Listen, Kyrie Irving is a stud, and Kevin Love is a workhorse. They are going to put up better numbers and create more problems in the future than Wade and Bosh did. Miami was always more of a defensive juggernaut than offensive. But that doesn't mean Irving and Love will be more successful than Wade and Bosh.
You can't discredit the fact that Irving and Love have absolutely no playoff experience. In the NBA, that's valuable. Even teams with more talent lose to teams that have the experience, you see it all the time. Irving and Love are good. But who's to say that they know what it feels like to play into June, or to adjust in a series, and to come through in the biggest of moments. I think there are more question marks for LeBron's teammates this time than before.
5. How should LeBron be remembered in Miami?
As a winner. Plain and simple. He helped this franchise reach heights that we haven't experienced for a sustained amount of time. He won two MVPs, two Finals MVPs and helped us experience the jealousy of the NBA. From the first season of ups and downs to the dismantling of the Celtics (twice) including a 45 point Game 6 explosion in Boston...to the rivalry with the Pacers that brought unwarranted tensions....to the posterization of Jason Terry in Boston...to the 27 game win steak...to the huge Game 7 jump shot over Kawhi Leonard to give the Heat a four point lead.
Man, he did a lot for us. We have to be appreciative of the borrowed time we had with him. Would we have liked it to be longer? Yes. Could he have left with a little more notice to Pat Riley? Yes. Is that a requirement? No. James did what he said he would and helped deliver championships. He should be remembered as a winner and celebrated as one also.