LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers have visited AmericanAirlines Arena five times since James left the Heat. And whether he plays or not, the result is always the same: a Heat victory.
With Cavs stars James and Kyrie Irving given the night off to rest, and teammates Kevin Love and J.R. Smith injured, the Heat rolled on Saturday night, scoring 67 points in the first half en route to a 120-92 victory, giving the Heat its 12th consecutive home win against Cleveland and largest margin of victory all season.
Since James bolted from the Heat, Miami is 3-0 against the Cavaliers at home when James plays and 2-0 against them in Miami when James sits.
James is expected to play when the teams meet again Monday night in Cleveland, but the Cavaliers’ second and final visit to Miami on April 10 is a scenario just like this one, one night after the Cavs play at Atlanta. So James might sit that night, too.
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Tempers flared in the waning moments Saturday, after Rodney McGruder made contact with Cleveland’s Channing Frye on McGruder’s follow-up dunk with 1:14 left. That seemed to irk Smith, who yelled repeatedly from the bench in the final minute and after the game ended.
“Rodney made a basketball play, a putback dunk and made contact with Frye,” Heat guard Wayne Ellington said. “J.R. jumped up and made it a bigger deal than it had to be.”
Heat forward Udonis Haslem told Smith to “sit your [butt] back down.”
Players exchanged words after the game, with referees and coaches intervening and Dion Waiters and Smith exchanging a string of expletives as they left the court.
McGruder didn’t understand what all the fuss was about.
“I didn’t shove Channing,” he said. “I made a play on the ball. I was surprised by their reaction. I didn’t see any dirty play.”
Frye, too, didn’t seem bothered.
“It’s not really a story,” he said. “Tempers flared. It is what it is.”
Waiters and Smith did not comment afterward.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called the ending “unfortunate. At that point, we were just trying to get out of there. A bunch of ado about nothing. If anybody knows Rodney, he’s just out there competing. He’s not trying to show up anybody.”
Heat guard Tyler Johnson said Miami players were disappointed when they learned James and Irving would not play.
“When we found out they were sitting out we were like, ‘Aww man,’ ” Ellington said.
A night after the Cavs set an NBA record with 25 three-pointers, the teams combined for 29 threes, with Miami opening 8 for 12 on threes and finishing 18 for 34, and Cleveland going 11 for 27.
Goran Dragic (23 points) made 4 of 5 from beyond the arc and Luke Babbitt drained 3 of 4, making him 20 for his past 30 on threes.
Spoelstra, referencing one of Babbitt’s difficult threes in front of the Heat bench, said: “I’ve been begging Luke to take that all year long. It was questionably a bad shot, and I want him to take that every time he touches it.”
There were Heat contributions across the board.
Hassan Whiteside had 20 points and 13 rebounds, Johnson scored 17 points and Ellington added 12.
Spoelstra, as is usually the case, was more inclined to discuss defense than offense afterward. After yielding 35 points in the first quarter, the Heat allowed just 57 the rest of the way.
“We should be able to win some games when we don’t make 18 threes,” Spoelstra said. “We’re not trying to outscore teams and play a pickup game. We have to be [a] lunch-pale, hard-hat, gritty-type team. And even though our offense has been trending much, much better, our identity has to be to commit to the defensive end.”
Waiters struggled offensively for the second game in a row, finishing with eight points on 3-for-10 shooting after scoring three points on 1-for-11 shooting on Friday against Orlando.
But Josh Richardson had his best game since returning from a foot injury, with eight points, seven rebounds and a block.
“I’m encouraged by his activity level now, getting closer to who he was last year,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t care about the offense. It’s the defensive activity, the energy, the versatility he brings.”
The Heat broke a 35-35 tie after one quarter, led by 16 at halftime and by 26 after three.
With Miami and Detroit both winning on Saturday, the Heat remained 1 1/2 games behind the Pistons for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot.
▪ James Johnson, who had eight points in 17 minutes, needed four stitches on his lacerated left elbow, which he said was injured when Iman Shumpert’s “face got caught in the way” after Johnson made a move in the third quarter.