Cavaliers 91, Heat 80
CLEVELAND (AP)—With two games remaining, the Cleveland Cavaliers still have their eyes on the playoffs—next season’s.
The Cavaliers won for just the second time in 13 games, a slide that began when McInnis injured his right shoulder on March 16 and resulted in Cleveland dropping from NBA playoff contention.
“If we would have had him we’d be in, no doubt,” Cavs forward Carlos Boozer said. “We’d be right in the thick of it. But we showed a lot of character tonight. Now we want to finish strong and go into next season on a steamroll.”
McInnis had also missed Friday night’s loss in Miami with a sprained left ankle. But with their floor leader back, the Cavaliers again played with intensity.
They also wanted to pay back Miami, whose players may have gotten a little carried away with one-on-one moves and celebrating during the Heat’s 106-91 win on Friday night.
“They were doing too much showboating last night,” said McInnis, who added eight assists and singled out his good friend, Rafer Alston, as one of the Heat’s culprits of over-exuberance. “We didn’t like that.”
Boozer added 14 rebounds—10 in the third quarter—and Tony Battie had 12 points and 10 rebounds as Cleveland notched its 33rd win, the club’s most since winning 47 in 1997-98.
Another victory would double the Cavaliers’ win total from last season when they went 17-65. The 16-game turnaround is the second biggest in team history.
“If we can double our wins, that would be great,” James said. “Next year, we’ll be in the playoffs.”
Miami, which entered the night in the No. 5 spot in the East, has two games left. The Heat are 15-4 since March 2.
Coach Stan Van Gundy didn’t like anything about the way his team played.
“That was just a horrible, horrible performance,” he said.
Heat forward Brian Grant couldn’t argue with the assessment.
“This was a wake-up call,” he said. “Even though we have a very good offensive team we have to improve our defensive intensity.”
The Cavaliers had regressed without McInnis, whose arrival in a January trade stabilized an unsettled position and legitimized Cleveland’s playoff push.
They were lost without him, but with McInnis back, Cleveland’s offense clicked again and the Cavs opened an early lead and pulled away.
“He leads the charge and we all follow,” Cavs coach Paul Silas said. “It’s just impossible to play our system without his production. It’s a whole different ballgame.”
The Cavaliers’ pushed a 13-point halftime advantage to 17 on McInnis’ 3-pointer midway through the third period, and they went up 68-46 when McInnis fed James on a fast break for a thunderous dunk.
For the first time since their McInnis-less descent began, the Cavaliers led at halftime. Cleveland’s 52-39 lead was its first after 24 minutes in 12 games.
Cleveland opened the second quarter with an 11-0 run, capped by Kedrick Brown’s 3-pointer and highlighted by one of James’ most powerful dunks this season.
After taking a pass near the foul line, Cleveland’s rookie drove the lane, wound up and delivered a ferocious windmill dunk over Miami’s Samaki Walker.
James finished with 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting.
As well as James has played this season, Silas said there’s plenty of room for improvement in the 19-year-old’s game—particularly on defense. James knows it, too. “I have to work on everything,” he said. … The Cavaliers, who have seen a 58 percent increase in home attendance, will thank their fans by giving away nearly $230,000 in merchandise at Monday night’s game against Milwaukee. … Gund Arena was sold out for the 15th time this season. The Cavs played in front of a full house twice last season. … Alston has made a3-pointer in 46 consecutive games—the league’s longest current streak.