Miami Heat

Heat expects much sharper Cavaliers team than first meeting

Heat guard Dwyane Wade passes the ball between the Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James, right, and Shawn Marion at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Thursday, Dec. 25, 2014.
Heat guard Dwyane Wade passes the ball between the Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James, right, and Shawn Marion at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Thursday, Dec. 25, 2014. El Nuevo Herald

When the Heat topped LeBron James and the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers 101-91 on Christmas Day, it did so with a healthy Dwyane Wade, an injured Chris Bosh and more minutes from Udonis Haslem than afterthought reserve Hassan Whiteside.

Revamped Cleveland was a disappointment that lost six of its past 10. Miami was treading water, hovering around .500 while still adjusting to life after LeBron.

That night, the Cavaliers started Mike Miller and Shawn Marion.

It has been barely seven weeks since. But doesn’t it feel like a lifetime ago?

“It will be a different matchup than it was last time,” said Bosh, typically not one for understatements. “They’re jelling right now.”

Both teams have experienced radical personnel changes. But it’s the Cavs who have won 13 of 17 since acquiring guards Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith and center Timofey Mozgov in early January. Even with the ascension of Whiteside around the same time, Miami is 8-13 since the New Year.

For some eye-opening context on how much things have changed since Christmas, the Detroit Pistons had just five wins then and sat in 13th place in the East, 8½ games behind Miami. The Pistons entered Wednesday 21-32, just two games behind the Heat, and now, a playoff spot.

This time, the Heat will take on Cleveland with a healthy Bosh and injured Wade.

“We haven’t been able to have their familiar continuity throughout the whole season,” Bosh said.

Wade announced Tuesday he will miss Wednesday’s game and Sunday’s All-Star Game because of a still healing hamstring (Wade had hoped Bucks guard and South Florida native Brandon Knight would get his spot, but it was given to Atlanta’s Kyle Korver). By that point, Wade will have missed a total of 18 games this season.

He admitted the choice to sit against Cleveland wasn’t easy.

“I was very eager to get back on the court,” Wade said. “But long haul, we got a run to make after this All-Star break to solidify a playoff seed. It’s not cocky of me, but I don’t think this team is going anywhere if me or Chris isn’t helping.”

The Heat has seen what the recent Wade-less tailspin looks like, losing four of six during the stretch, and nine of 16 without its leading scorer. Bosh said the toughest part of an injury is returning too soon. Neither the highly emotional Cleveland game nor spotlight-centered All-Star Game felt like appropriate times to take that risk.

“Sometimes it just requires you to look at the big picture,” Bosh said. “We have 30 games after the All-Star Game and I think we need to focus on that.”

And though many will be focusing on Cleveland’s Big 3, Bosh, and the absence of Wade during Wednesday’s matchup in Cleveland, the newer pieces on both teams could determine all the difference.

Shumpert and Smith have benefited from new surroundings, and Mozgov is grabbing more rebounds and shooting better than at any point in his career. The Heat’s response is is Whiteside, who by some analytical measures has been one of the NBA’s best players since New Year’s.

“Obviously a lot of emotions went with it just being back in that building, around my old teammates and those fans,” James told NBA.com of his December return to Miami. “It was great. But obviously both sides have moved on since then.”

Next: Heat at Cavaliers

When, where: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland.

TV/radio: Sun Sports; ESPN/FM 104.3, 790 AM, WAQI 710 (Spanish).

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