UPDATE: Cleveland will indeed sit out LeBron James and Kyrie Irving tonight. Tristan Thompson will not play as well with a sprained right thumb. Kevin Love is questionable with illness.
With such a huge climb back to the brink of the playoffs after their 11-30 first half of the season, the Miami Heat (39-41) are one spot away from the #8 seed after an inspiring win over the Washington Wizards but need the Indiana Pacers and the Chicago Bulls to lose to help them. Oh, and they’ll also need to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight and the Wizards again at home to close out the regular season.
Which Cavs team shows up at AmericanAirlines Arena, however, remains to be seen.
LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love all played more than 40 minutes last night in a disastrous 126-125 loss in overtime last night to the Atlanta Hawks. The (supposed) best team in the East has struggled to keep the Celtics from stealing the top seed even after a convincing win in Boston last week. All that has been quickly forgotten after losing back-to-back games against the Hawks, who rested several players in the first game. Yesterday’s game was even more perplexing after they squandered a 26-point fourth quarter in Atlanta. Both the Cavs and the Celtics have the same record, with Cleveland holding the tie-breaker.
"Obviously, the last 10 games we've been 5-5," James said after yesterday’s collapse in which they allowed 44 points in the fourth quarter and 15 more in overtime. "We had some good moments, and we had some not-so-good moments today. The best thing for our team is we want to go down the stretch, be healthy and put a game plan together."
Irving played 45 minutes despite soreness in his surgically repaired right knee, and he may choose to sit out today despite the #1 seed still in play. James, who has a peculiar history of sitting out games against his former team due to rest, has a valid excuse this time around after logging 47 minutes and recording a triple-double.
Miami also has a few question marks with their roster, with the team upgrading Dion Waiters, Luke Babbitt and Josh McRoberts to questionable for tonight’s game. Having Waiters back in the rotation would be huge and would help take the pressure off backcourt mate Goran Dragic.
The Heat currently lead the season series against the Cavaliers 2-1 and have won a franchise-record 12 straight games against them at home. Miami could be eliminated from qualifying for the playoffs tonight, or they could stay alive with another victory. It may not be the playoffs just yet, but the team have no choice but treat tonight’s challenge as an elimination game.
numberFire’s metrics currently give Miami a 66.1% chance to beat Cleveland and a 41.2% chance to make the playoffs.
FOX Sports Sun (Eric Reid, Tony Fiorentino, Jason Jackson)
Radio: The Ticket 790AM & The HEAT Radio Network (Mike Inglis). Spanish - WRTO 98.3 FM (Jose Pañeda)
PG - Goran Dragic
SG - Rodney McGruder
SF - Josh Richardson
PF - James Johnson
C - Hassan Whiteside
PG - Kyrie Irving
SG - J.R. Smith
SF - LeBron James
PF - Kevin Love
C - Channing Frye