CLEVELAND – Every game counts and the Heat have four big ones in the next seven days.
Miami faces two of the East’s top four teams – at Cleveland tonight and Toronto at home Saturday – along with two game against teams in the mix for one of the final three playoff spots – Charlotte at home Wednesday and at Indiana Sunday.
Here are three things to watch this week as the Heat enter 1.5 games out of a playoff spot.
The rematch: Things got heated in the final minutes of Miami’s blowout win over the Cavaliers on Saturday as J.R. Smith took exception to the way Rodney McGruder finished a dunk over Channing Frye. Smith jumped off the bench and started yapping and by the end of the game a scrum formed near the Cavs bench as Udonis Haslam and Dion Waiters jumped in quickly to protect their teammate. And although Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was among those downplaying the incident, Cleveland will have plenty of incentive – not to mention more firepower – for tonight’s game with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving returning after resting Saturday in Miami.
“That’s alright,” guard Wayne Ellington said when asked if the Heat gave the Cavs more to play for in the rematch. “I think it definitely woke them up. We have another level we want to get to as well. We want to step up to the competition. It’s a huge test for us.”
The Dion we saw for six weeks: Waiters was playing the best basketball of his career for a six-week stretch until Friday when he went 1-of-11 from the floor in Orlando and then followed that up by missing his first five shots against Cleveland on Saturday. But Waiters made 3-of-5 in the second half Saturday and we will find out tonight if that small sample was enough to say he is out of the slump. The Heat were unsure if Waiters was even going to play Friday against the Magic because of a sore ankle and to his credit, Waiters would not use the injury as an excuse.
“There’s so many ways you can impact winning,” Spoelstra said. “I told him that at halftime, ‘Just play hard, make winning plays, things will change for you.’ It’s amazing how the karma of the game changes when you start concentrating on effort, energy, toughness, physicality. He did and all of a sudden the ball finds him and he makes some shots.”
Paul George revenge game: George was tossed from Miami’s win nine days ago when he was frustrated by McGruder, who recently has had that effect on players. The two picked up double technical fouls early in the second quarter before George was whistled for his second less than two minutes later. George was not happy, saying Spoelstra was responsible for referee Gary Zielinski. making the call on the second T and calling Zielinski a puppet (somehow, George avoided a fine). Like the Cavs, the Pacers will be motivated and this game will have more of an impact considering Miami enters the week 3.5 games behind Indiana, which owns the No. 6 seed in the East.