Heat look for season sweep of Cavs
As the NBA season heads around the final turn toward the homestretch, the Miami Heat are in a dogfight for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with three other teams.
After beating the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night, Miami (30-34) sits in that final spot with Orlando, Charlotte and Washington on its heels. Only three games separate the four teams.
Miami plays host to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday having won three straight games. The Heat can sweep the season series after winning twice in Cleveland and once at home.
The Heat have a significant frontcourt advantage against the Cavaliers, who will be without big men Ante Zizic and Tristan Thompson. Zizic, in the league's concussion protocol, will miss his fourth straight game, while Thompson hasn't played since Jan. 16 because of a foot injury.
In Wednesday's win against the Hornets, Kelly Olynyk and Hassan Whiteside dominated, combining for 40 points and 26 rebounds. The Heat outrebounded the Hornets 52-40, including 18 boards at the offensive end. Whiteside added four blocks.
Their play spells trouble for Cleveland, especially considering the Heat outrebounded the Cavaliers 47-22 back on Jan. 2.
"That team is a very physical team, and they have size at all positions," Cleveland coach Larry Drew told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "They're a team that really gets to the offensive glass."
Drew knows what it will take for his team to perhaps play spoiler against the Heat.
"We have to be grimy," he said. "We can't play cute, we can't play pretty. We have to do all the little things that add up to be big things. ... There has to be a total commitment on the defensive end and total commitment as far as really getting out there scrapping.
"That is the only way we win. It's got to be a real bulldog mentality."
That same type of approach is fueling the Heat as they look toward the postseason. What matters most for Miami is taking it day by day, Dwyane Wade told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
"Obviously the goal for the playoffs is the top eight," Wade said. "But for us, we just want to keep playing well down the stretch. If we continue to keep playing well, then we'll get there.
"We don't want to just have the mentality that we need to get to eight. We're not that far. From six, to 11, 12, whatever, it's all tight."
Friday's contest represents the first of a five-game homestand for Miami. The Heat will be gunning for their 16th straight win over the Cavs at home.
"Let's just continue to play well," Wade said, "continue to impose our will on these games the way we have the last four or five, and we'll be alright."
Whiteside and Justise Winslow have put up big numbers in the three games against the Cavaliers this season. Winslow is averaging 20.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists in those games, while Whiteside, who is now coming off the bench, is averaging 11.3 points and 9.7 boards.
Whiteside has embraced his new role.
"When you're coming off the bench, you can read the game a little better, because you can see who's hot, what the other team's scheme is," Whiteside said. "The only thing is you can't come out with the sweat you have in the layup line."
--Field Level Media
Updated March 7, 2019