MIAMI (SportsDirect Inc.) – The Cleveland Cavaliers have fallen apart in consecutive games down the stretch and hope to have enough in the tank to secure the top seed in the Eastern Conference for the postseason.
Meanwhile, the Miami Heat still are trying to sneak in at the other end of the playoff race as they open a two-game homestand Monday with a crucial matchup against the Cavaliers.
After being outscored by 14 points in the final eight-plus minutes of a home loss to Atlanta on Friday, Cleveland choked away a 26-point, fourth-quarter advantage and eventually fell by one in overtime at Atlanta two days later.
“Obviously, the last 10 games, we’ve been 5-5,” Cavaliers superstar LeBron James told reporters. “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.”
The Heat capped a 2-1 road trip with a vital 106-103 win at Washington on Saturday and pull into this contest tied with Chicago for the eighth seed, although the Bulls own the tiebreaker.
Hassan Whiteside recorded 30 points and 12 rebounds while providing a key block in the closing moments as Miami won for the fourth time in its final five road games.
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, FSN Ohio (Cleveland), FSN Sun (Miami)
ABOUT THE CAVALIERS (51-29): In addition to the negativity surrounding Sunday’s collapse, Cleveland will be hard-pressed to find the energy to get past a motivated Miami squad, as James (47 minutes), Kyrie Irving (45) and Kevin Love (42) were used heavily. Additionally, Irving – who recorded 45 points and nine assists – has been bothered by a sore knee while James is averaging 42.3 minutes over a five-game span. The Cavaliers averaged 95 points in losing a home-and-home series with the Heat last month, which began with a 120-92 loss at Miami.
ABOUT THE HEAT (39-41): Saturday’s win had a playoff feel to it, and the manner in which Miami responded down the stretch proved it is not ready to pack things up. “These guys in the locker room right now feel alive,” coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters. “You can’t pay enough money to feel like that.” Forward James Johnson is averaging 21 points and 8.3 rebounds over a three-game span.
1. Miami has won 12 straight meetings at home.
2. James also notched 16 rebounds and 10 assists Sunday for his 13th triple-double.
3. Heat SG Dion Waiters (ankle) has missed 11 straight contests and SF Luke Babbitt (hip) has sat out three in a row.
PREDICTION: Heat 108, Cavaliers 106