The Miami Heat’s playoff hopes received a rather large boost when the Cleveland Cavaliers announced All-Stars LeBron James and Kyrie Irving would not be playing in Monday night’s pivotal showdown at AmericanAirlines Arena.
The defending world champions ruled James (right calf strain) and Irving (left knee tendinitis) out when it updated its injury report Monday afternoon. Leading rebounder Tristan Thompson will miss his fourth consecutive game with a sprained right thumb. Four-time All-Star Kevin Love (illness) is listed as questionable.
The Cavaliers (51-29) blew a 26-point fourth quarter lead in overtime Sunday in Atlanta and enter Monday’s game tied with the Boston Celtics for the best record in the Eastern Conference. James, Irving and Love all played more than 40 minutes in the loss.
Monday’s news signals the Cavaliers, who own the tiebreaker with Boston, prefer to get some rest for their stars before the playoffs instead of fighting for the top spot in the East. That’s welcome news for the Heat, which is tied with Chicago at 39-41 but sit just outside of a playoff seed because the Bulls own the head-to-head tiebreaker with Miami.
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In order to make the playoffs, the Heat needs to win its last two games and have either Indiana or Chicago lose one of its final two games or have the Milwaukee Bucks (41-39) lose both of its final games. If Miami, which hosts Washington Wednesday in its regular season finale, loses one of its final two games it would need either the Bulls or Pacers to lose both of its final games.
The Heat has lost to short-handed teams before, dropping a 98-94 decision to the Knicks at home back on March 31. New York rested former All-Stars Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony in the victory.
The Heat has won its last two meetings with the Cavaliers and hasn’t lost to Cleveland at home since James left the Heat to rejoin his old team. This will be the third time in Cleveland’s last four trips to Miami the four-time MVP will not suit up to play.
Miami won in Cleveland with James and Irving in the lineup 106-98 on March 6.