After clinching a playoff berth for the first time since 1998 in their last outing, the Cleveland Cavaliers now try to move closer to securing home-court advantage in the first round of the postseason when they host the Miami Heat.
Cleveland earned a spot in the playoffs on Wednesday when it beat Dallas 107-94 for its sixth straight win. The Cavs lead Washington by a handful of games for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
“We’re just riding on cloud nine right now,” said LeBron James, who had 46 points. “We’re playing as well as anybody in this league right now.”
The Cavs missed the playoffs by one game after going 12-19 after the All-Star break last season. They avoided the same fate this year even though they lost five of six after the break and have been playing without injured guard Larry Hughes since January.
“This team went through a lot of ups and downs, injuries to Larry, losing streaks,” center Zydrunas Ilgauskas said. “People doubted us, expected us to falter.”
James, who will be appearing in his first postseason, is averaging 31.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game since the break.
“Before (Wednesday’s) game started, I pulled (James) to the side and said, `Tonight you solidify your legacy,”’ Donyell Marshall said. “A lot of people say he’s not going to be a legit star until he makes the playoffs. You clinch it tonight, what else can they say? Only thing they can hold him to now is a championship.”
Miami clinched the Southeast Division title for the second straight season by virtue of Washington’s 105-103 loss Friday to Houston. The Heat, however, are suffering through injuries to their frontcourt.
Heat coach Pat Riley said he doesn’t think O’Neal’s injury is serious.
“He has a little irritation on his knee. I don’t think it is anything more than that,” Riley said.
Miami got off to a slow start without their big men against the Raptors, falling behind by 16 points at halftime, but Dwyane Wade led the comeback by scoring 16 of his 37 points in the second half to rally the Heat to their third straight win.
“We were obviously outplayed in the first half,” Riley said. “It wasn’t until the second half … that we gave ourselves a chance. We just kept hanging around, hanging around and then Dwayne took care of it for us at the end.”
It was the fourth double-digit fourth-quarter comeback of the season for the Heat, who are 11-18 when trailing after three quarters.
“We hope there is an easier way of course, but when you’re winning games like this and come back, it always builds character and it always gives you confidence knowing you can come back,” Wade said. “At the same time, you don’t want to get into a habit of spotting a team 15 points and saying ‘alright, let’s go now.”’
Miami has won five of the last six meetings with Cleveland.