1. What’s the bigger threat from Miami’s offense: Chris Bosh’s midrange game or the three-point shooting of Ray Allen and Shane Battier?
Chris Manning, RDE co-editor: This is tough. Bosh certainty will take the most shots out of these three players, but as we’ve seen, he’s not what gets Miami rolling offensively. Therefore, I’ll go with the three-point shooting of Allen and Battier. When both (or even one) man is on, Miami becomes nearly impossible to defend due to their perfect spacing and ball movement. At that point, you have to pick your poison: pressure and focus on the shooters or leave LeBron James to operate one-on-one with someone who can’t stay in front of him. No matter how hot Bosh gets, he doesn’t command extra attention, as Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao should be able to body up Bosh. Advantage, Allen and Battier.
Trevor Magnotti, Staff Writer: I’d be more concerned with raining death by three-pointers. The Cavs have allowed the 7th most three-pointers of any team this season, and teams are converting at a 38 percent clip, the third-worst rate in the league. The Heat will certainly be preying on this. They have two elite bench gunners in Allen and Battier, who somehow are somehow 8th and 10th on the Heat in three-point percentage, respectively. That’s because Bosh is hitting 47 percent from deep and Mario Chalmers and LeBron are both hitting 49 percent. That’s absurd. In particular though, I’m worried about Allen and Battier killing the Cavs because the Heat have such fluid ball movement, and while Bosh is going to get his mid-range shots, Varejao can probably effectively handle him. Instead, I’m scared that LeBron is going to roast whoever’s guarding him, and when the Cavs’ defense collapses, there will be Allen or Battier on the wings for soul-crushing corner threes. The Heat do such a good job of freeing up their shooters that even if Dion Waiters or Alonzo Gee defend well, these guys will still probably get (and make) their threes.
Marlowe Alter, Staff Writer: The three-point shot is always more dangerous than a midrange jumper, especially when the most decorated long-range shooter is doing the shooting. Opposing teams would gladly trade an open Allen/Battier three attempt for a Bosh mid range jumper even though CB is an excellent mid range shooter. It doesn’t hurt that he usually has an open look because defenses are forced to focus on cutting off the driving lanes for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Bosh is 19-43 (44 percent) on long twos (16-23 feet) this season. But Allen is hitting 40 percent of his three-point attempts while Battier is a career 38.6 percent shooter from deep and is especially dangerous from the corners. Don’t forget Mario Chalmers (if he plays), who along with James is tied for fifth in the league among players who’ve attempted 40 or more threes, hitting 48.8 percent of their treys. Miami is the second best three-point shooting team behind only Golden State. The three-point shot is better than a long two for the offense, particularly when the team is scorching from beyond the arc. Cleveland is tied for third worse in the NBA in opponent three-point percentage so it’s imperative that the Cavs limit the amount of open looks Miami gets from deep. If the three-point defense falters, things will be ugly.
2. Who should spend the majority of the minutes defending LeBron James: Alonzo Gee, Earl Clark or other?
CM: I’ll go with Earl Clark on the perimiter. He has the length to potentially give LeBron fits and can step out on the wing and pressure James. He should also be able to hang in the post for stretches, although LeBron might be better on the block than he is shooting off the dribble. So, with that considered, I’ll also say I want to see Tristan Thompson spend time defending James down low. You can pass off the other one onto the center, and when James inevitably posts up, I’d rather have a big body there to meet him than Gee, who is just waiting to be victimized and get dunked over in transition. With the big fellas, we know they’ll be physical with James, and won’t get overwhelmed. In the post, at the very least, Thompson will be able to work to stay in front of James and get physical with him. That’s a solid approach to defending James and Thompson is only Cavalier capable of doing this strategy.
TM: The million-dollar question if the Cavs are going to be competitive. Here we get the same issues we always see when the Cavs face a team with a big, versatile wing: Do you like Gee, who’s fast and smart enough but lacks size, or Earl Clark, who’s big enough to handle LeBron but is slow and doesn’t try? However, the Heat offer a unique advantage to the Cavs: LeBron plays the four in 4 of his most common five lineups. Therefore, that opens up the ability for Tristan Thompson to be charged with LeBron, which is a good thing. Tristan isn’t quick enough to guard LeBron on the perimeter, but in the post and in transition, I’d much rather have Thompson there than anyone else. He’s athletic, might be a better rebounder than LeBron, and won’t shy away from contact with a star. I’m okay with this gameplan for the majority of the time LeBron’s in, even if Udonis Haslem will murder Earl Clark on the boards. It’s better than the guaranteed 30 Clark would give up guarding LeBron.
MA: James has been starting at power forward with the absence of Udonis Haslem but slides over to small forward when the Heat bring in Rashard Lewis or Shane Battier. The Suns had their SF P.J. Tucker (6’6”, 224 lbs.) matchup against James on Monday, but ‘The King’ bullied Tucker all night long, going for 35 points on just 14 field goal attempts. Last year, Cavs head coach Byron Scott stuck Gee (6’6.5”, 225 lbs.) on James but he couldn’t do much to slow James down. Clark provides better length but doesn’t have the foot speed to stay in front of James and don’t even think about trying Anthony Bennett. According to 82games.com, the Cavs best lineup has been the Irving-Jack-Waiters-Thompson-Varejao quintet, which has logged the third most minutes together, but Thompson isn’t quick enough to guard James and Waiters would obviously get abused in the post. Clearly the Cavs are in need of a starting small forward for the future, but for now it will likely again be Gee who is assigned the unenviable task of tracking James for most of the game.
3. Will the emotion, attention and interest of the Heat coming to town help the Cavs raise their intensity and focus to give us a glimpse of the Cavaliers team many expected to see?
CM: I want to say yes for the entire team, but I can’t so with confidence. On odd nights certain Cavaliers (i.e. Dion Waiters) have played far above their regular levels and gone off against Miami. But at the same time, this edition of the Wine & Gold just went to San Antonio and were out of the game before halftime. So, we’ll see. I don’t have hope that the entire team shows up, but maybe we’ll see Irving preform big on the national stage and make the game winnable. He’s done it before, and considering Mario Chalmers isn’t exactly a world-beater on defense, this is a perfect game for Irving to get in groove and score big. Unless Miami does the smart thing and puts LeBron James on Irving. All in all, this is the type of game that the Cavaliers would show up for – national stage, against the champs, etc. – or one where the Cavaliers fall flat and get blown out.
TM: I would hope so. I mean, the Cavs did play up for the Heat last year during their 9-game end-of-season skid, in the infamous 27-point comeback. I think they will do the same Wednesday night. After all, it’s the first national TV appearance for the Cavs, and I’d really like them to put on a good show so national talk types can stop with their over-dissection of all the Cavs problems (Hi, Bill Simmons!). Also, you know the fans are expecting a good showing, and if the Cavs get massacred and we roll on to a 4-game losing streak (with blowout losses is three of the games), calls will start coming in for changes to be made. I’m not sure that that needs to happen just yet, and I’d really like at least a competitive game with the Heat in order to give us some semblance of positivity around this team.
MA: The Cavs played the Heat tough last season, but overall are just 1-10 against their former franchise player. Cleveland nearly ended Miami’s historic winning streak at 23 last March, taking a 27-point lead midway through the third quarter before faltering in the final 18 minutes. The Cavs faced Miami four times in 2012-2013 (James sat out a meaningless April game), losing to the eventual NBA champions by a combined 13 points.
At 4-10, Cleveland has been one of the league’s biggest disappointments. Number one pick Anthony Bennett, shooting a dreadful 21.4 percent from the field, has been relegated to garbage time, last year’s lottery pick Dion Waiters hasn’t played well either and GM Chris Grant is taking the heat for the construction of this team. But the Cavs can right the ship at least for one night with a big-time performance against the hated Heat. They’ve risen to the occasion in the past in these games but have been unable to finish the deal. Miami is supremely talented but the well-rested Cavs will feed off the emotion of the anti-LeBron crowd and challenge the Heat. Cleveland has something to prove after its collapse in New Orleans and the embarrassing 30-point loss to San Antonio on Saturday. The question is whether Kyrie Irving and co. will make enough plays down the stretch to pull off the stunner.