Miami Heat vs. Cleveland Cavaliers Game Preview: So We Meet Again

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(Miami, FL) — The Miami Heat (13-16) will host the Cleveland Cavaliers (17-10) in a Christmas Day showdown on Thursday night at American Airlines Arena.

The matchup will be centered around LeBron James’ return to Miami after bolting the Heat for the Cavaliers during the offseason. In his four years in Miami, James led the franchise to two championships. He won two MVP and Finals MVP awards during the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

How he’ll be received by the crowd at American Airlines Arena has been a topic of discussion. Dwyane Wade feels LeBron should be cheered in his return to South Beach, but believes that the “King” will receive a mixed reaction on Christmas Day:

“It’s going to be a mixture. How I think he should be received is a little bit different. The man helped take us to places we’ve only been once before he got here. So I think he should be received very well for that at the start of the game. And then, when the game [starts], then do what you’ve got to do.”

After starting out the season just 5-7, the Cavs have been one of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference over the past month, going 12-3 with James and Kyrie Irving developing more chemistry as the season progresses. LeBron is averaging 25.4 points and 7.6 assists per game, while Irving is scoring 20.0 points per contest.

The “King” is looking forward to his return to the city where he won his first championship:

“To say I haven’t thought about going back, I would be lying. It’s going to be great to be back in that building around those unbelievable fans and the memories will definitely come back being a part of the organization for four years. When it gets here I’m going to be excited about it and re-live a lot of moments in my head and go from there.”

While the Cavaliers have been on a hot streak, with their 125-104 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night marking their 17th victory of the season, the Heat have been in a steep decline since beginning the season with a 3-0 record. Miami blew a 23-point second half lead versus the league-worst Philadelphia 76ers in their last game.

Wade summed up the loss versus the 76ers with a simple statement: “It ain’t going to get no worse than this.”

When asked on whether the Heat were looking too far ahead toward the Cavaliers game on Christmas Day, Erik Spoelstra remarked that wasn’t the case in the postgame press conference:

“Obviously, that’ll be a common theme that we were looking ahead, but all of a sudden do you start looking ahead halfway through the third quarter, `Oh, let’s start thinking about the Christmas game.’ That’s not it. You have to credit their defense.”

Both teams are going through injury woes entering the marquee matchup. Chris Bosh has been ruled out due to a calf strain, while Anderson Varejao suffered a torn Achilles versus the Timberwolves. Varejao has been ruled out for the rest of the season.

The absences of Bosh and Varejao will have a tremendous impact on Thursday’s game. The Heat center ranks second on the team with 21.6 points per game, while Varejao was the team’s starting center, averaging 9.8 points a contest. Tristan Thompson will likely start in place of Varejao, while Chris Andersen continues to start for the injured Bosh.

Tipoff is set for 5:00 EST and the game will be broadcast nationally on ABC.

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D.J. Siddiqi grew up in the heart of South Florida in Broward County. Growing up in South Florida during the late 90's and 2000's, D.J. witnessed the Pat Riley years where the Miami Heat faced off with the New York Knicks all the way to the painful late 2000's seasons where the Heat were a one-man team with Dwyane Wade. D.J. has closely followed the Heat over the past decade-and-a-half, and unfortunately witnessed Game 2 of the 2011 NBA Finals in person when the Dallas Mavericks overcame a 15-point deficit to knock off the Heat. D.J. has writing experience as a columnist with sites such as Bleacher Report and Rant Sports, and he is proud to bring his knowledge of the Heat and the NBA to Heat Nation.