LeBron James will return to Cleveland for the first time in a Miami Heat uniform on Thursday, December 2. After James made his “Decision” to take his talents to South Beach, the prospects and expectations for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat changed significantly. The Cavaliers, who won 61 games with James last season, were expected to flounder without LeBron and possibly win 30 fewer games this season. Expectations for the Heat, who last season won 47 games, and their All-Star Trio of Chris Bosh, James, and Dwyane Wade, were so high that ESPN created a “Heat Index.” One of the early features of the “Heat Index” was the “Chase for 72” which forecast how many games the Heat would win and projected the odds of the Miami Heat matching the Chicago Bulls’ NBA record 72 wins.
One month into the season, the current prospects for the Miami Heat with LeBron James do not appear to be much different from those for the Cleveland Cavaliers without him. With the Miami Heat sitting on a 9-8 record and on pace to win just 43 games, the “Chase for 72” is no longer a feature of the “Heat Index.” The Cleveland Cavaliers currently have a record of 7-9 (1 ½ games behind the Heat in the standings) and are on pace to win 36 games.
This week, the NBA Game of the Week features the LeBron James-less Cleveland Cavaliers against the Miami Heat All-Star Trio-two teams who, after James’ “Decision,” were expected to be in very different places, but are currently residing on the same floor of the Eastern Conference standings.
(All statistics and records are through November 27)
Thursday, December 2, Miami Heat (9-8) at Cleveland Cavaliers (7-9), 8:00 PM ET on TNT
The raw emotions that Cleveland Cavaliers fans will bring to Quicken Loans Arena December 2 will provide a dramatic subplot to the actual game. LeBron James, who spent the first seven years of his NBA career as a Cleveland Cavalier, will return to the “Q” for the first time as a member of the Miami Heat.
James and the Heat have struggled to live up to expectations early this season and after a 106-95 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, Miami held a players-only meeting. The meeting came after a disappointing 1-3 week, with the only win coming against the Philadelphia 76ers.
So far this season, it appears that James and Wade are simply taking turns attacking the defense while the other one stands on the perimeter and watches. This approach has been good enough for them to amass a 7-1 record against teams below .500, but it has led them to an abysmal 2-7 record against teams above .500. This week the Heat have a four game schedule with three games, including the Cavaliers game, against teams currently below .500. Meetings or no meetings, until James and Wade figure out a way for both of them to be effective while on the floor together the Heat will continue to struggle against better than average competition.
New Head Coach Byron Scott has the Cleveland Cavaliers playing hard. Look for the Cavaliers to play even harder on Thursday with the defector coming to town. LeBron’s “Decision” was not only a blow to Cavaliers fans, but it was also an implicit indictment of James’ Cleveland teammates. By leaving Cleveland for South Beach, James suggested that he did not believe that the teammates who had helped him to two consecutive 60-win seasons were good enough to get him to an NBA Championship.
Knowing how badly the fans want this win coupled with the disrespect they must feel (especially with the Heat struggling), the Cleveland Cavaliers will play Thursday night’s game with a chip on their shoulders and try to provide the Cleveland faithful with the win they so desperately desire.
Whether a raucous crowd, hard work, and desire will be enough for the LeBron James-less Cleveland Cavaliers to compete with the “superior” Miami Heat All-Star Trio remains to be seen. The drama will unfold Thursday night on TNT.
Miami Heat 2010-2011 Game-by-Game Predictions
Cleveland Cavaliers 2010-11 Game-by-Game Predictions
Information from ESPN.com’s NBA Schedule, Heat Index, ESPN.com to Launch “The Heat Index” Oct. 11, Miami Heat 2011 Schedule, and 2010-2011 NBA Regular Season Conference Standings was used for this article.