Max Strus is heading back to play at the Miami Heat sooner than he expected, and the current Cleveland Cavaliers forward said he isn’t quite sure that he’s ready for what is likely to be an emotional night.
Thanks to some scheduling curveballs brought on by the NBA In-Season Tournament, Cleveland plays at Miami for the first time this season on Friday night, rather than much later in the season as was originally scheduled.
“I didn’t think we were coming here until March,” Strus said. “To be honest, I don’t know if I’m really prepared for it. But we will see how it goes. I don’t know what to expect. My first time doing something like this. It’s just playing basketball. Trying not to make it more than it is.”
Strus has stepped up to every challenge so far this season, so he should be able to manage whatever emotions he’ll be feeling on Friday. In 21 appearances this season, he’s averaging 14.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.0 steal and 0.6 blocks in 35.1 minutes per game.
All of those numbers would mark single-season career-highs for the 27-year-old, who played the previous three seasons for the Heat before moving on in a sign-and-trade with the Cavs this past offseason. He landed a four-year contract worth more than $62 million with Cleveland and has proven to be a very good investment so far.
“I was a young guy trying to make it in the league when I got here,” Strus said of Miami. “It’s all positive. Try to remember the good times and the fun games I had on this court with teammates and coaches. Just remember and cherish those moments.”
The Heat and Cavs bring 12-9 records into the game Friday as they battle for position in the Eastern Conference. Miami has won two of its past three contests after a three-game losing streak, while Cleveland has won four of its past five and eight of its past 11.
The Heat lost some quality depth when Strus was let go, and it’s become even more evident as they have dealt with injuries to players like Tyler Herro and Caleb Martin this season. Herro remains out as he recovers from an ankle injury he suffered in early November, and Miami also will be without Bam Adebayo on Friday as the big man deals with a hip injury. Martin is available.
The changes in the NBA schedule to accommodate teams that were eliminated from the In-Season Tournament may have come at a bad time for the Heat to put their best foot forward against their former teammate.
But with the Cavs rounding into form after their own early-season injury issues, Strus has a good chance to put on a show inside his former home arena, if he can manage his emotions.