Cavaliers-Heat Preview

The Associated Press

Miami and Cleveland will forever be linked by LeBron James' decision to abandon his hometown Cavaliers and bolt to South Beach in the summer of 2010.

While matchups in Cleveland bring out passionate Cavs fans eager to harass James, meetings in Miami have been far more subdued.

In a game that is generating significantly less buzz than last season, James and the Heat look to hand the struggling Cavaliers a fourth straight loss Tuesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.

James and Miami took three of four from Cleveland in 2010-11 with the seven-time All-Star averaging 27.5 points, 8.3 assists and 8.0 rebounds against his former team. While the Heat would go on to reach the NBA finals before falling to Dallas, the Cavs ended the season with an Eastern Conference-worst 63 losses.

Miami (11-5) figures to contend for a title again, while Cleveland (6-9) has stumbled after a somewhat promising start.

The Heat are coming off a sluggish performance Sunday, however, losing to Milwaukee 91-82 to snap a three-game winning streak. James had 28 points and 13 rebounds, but Miami finished with season lows in points, field-goal percentage (37.3), field goals (25) and assists (nine).

The Heat were playing for the second straight night and third time in four days.

"We can't make no excuses for ourselves," James said. "But no one had energy from the start of the game to the end."

Chris Bosh scored 23 points - usually enough to help get Miami a victory - but the team lost for the first time in eight games this season when he reaches the 20-point mark.

The Heat also lost for the first time in seven games without Dwyane Wade, still nursing a sprained right ankle. Wade, who averaged 27.0 points on 54.7 percent shooting against the Cavs last season, has sat out the last four games and his status remains uncertain.

James has done a good job of carrying the Heat in Wade's absence. He is averaging 30.8 points on 55.4 percent shooting in the six games he has played that Wade has missed.

Since James left Cleveland, the Cavs have been looking for someone to heal the scar James left on the franchise, and it appears rookie guard Kyrie Irving could be up to the challenge.

Irving - Cleveland's first No. 1 overall pick in the draft since selecting James in 2003 - leads all rookies with 17.4 points per game and is shooting 42.5 percent from 3-point range and 50.0 percent from the floor. He has started every game and is playing with confidence, but the team is coming off a pair of embarrassing losses.

After falling 114-75 to a Chicago team playing without Derrick Rose on Friday, the Cavs lost 121-94 to Atlanta the following night.

"To come out (Friday) night and perform the way we did was disappointing," forward Antawn Jamison said. "But to come out again, after what we talked about, and pretty much give the same performance, is even worse.

"(Friday) night, we didn't compete at all. But (Saturday), we do stupid things."

Irving had seven of Cleveland's 20 turnovers Saturday along with a season-low two assists, and the team allowed the Hawks to shoot 55.4 percent.

The Cavs have had trouble slowing down their opponents during their three-game skid, allowing an average of 113.3 points on 51.2 percent shooting, and that could lead to problems against Miami's high-octane offense.

Before going cold against the Bucks, the Heat were averaging 110.3 points on 52.2 percent shooting in their previous three games.

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