NBA Basketball: Cleveland Cavaliers at Miami Heat - Cavaliers Favored
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The Cleveland Cavaliers have had enough trouble winning in Miami with LeBron James in the lineup. It's unlikely to be any easier if he's not available, even if the Heat are missing Shaquille O'Neal on Thursday as these teams meet for the first time this season.
James has never won in six trips to Miami despite averaging 28.3 points, and Cleveland (26-19) has lost seven in a row there since Dec. 21, 2001. The Cavaliers have a 5-23 all-time road record against the Heat (20-25).
A sprained toe could keep James sidelined for a second straight game and third time in four games, leaving fans without what should have been this season's first matchup of 2003 draft superstars James and Dwayne Wade. James averaged 41.0 points and Wade averaged 34.0 as the teams split four meetings last season.
"Cleveland is one of the better teams in the East. It's going to be a challenge," Wade said. "It's going to be one of those games you look forward to playing."
Both the Cavaliers and Heat had lopsided wins on Tuesday despite each team missing a key player.
While O'Neal's absence clearly did not have a negative affect on Miami in a 110-80 win over Milwaukee, Cleveland beat Golden State 124-97 after the team's medical staff advised James to rest the toe.
James, who was held out of contact drills during Wednesday's practice and will be a game-time decision for this contest, said the injury could linger for the rest of the season.
"I hope not, but I think it will," James said. "It's like you jam your finger or you get a light ankle sprain, those are the things that don't really get back until after the season. It's a concern, but not a big concern as long as it keeps getting better and progressing every day."
Cleveland, though, is 8-2 without James in the lineup since he joined the team. The Cavs received an impressive effort Tuesday from James' replacement in the lineup, with Sasha Pavlovic making his third start of the season and scoring a career-high 24 points.
"This was a chance for some of us to make names for ourselves," said Donyell Marshall, who scored 15 points off the bench. "We all know what LeBron can do. With him out, we knew we all had to step up."
After opening January by winning its first five games, the Cavaliers dropped seven of 11. Following this contest, they will begin a five-game homestand - the team's longest of the season.
Brown knows his role players must increase their productivity if James isn't ready to play.
"He's our guy, so when he's out we have to cut harder, screen better and execute that much more," he said.
Miami, meanwhile, has gotten used to playing without O'Neal, who has missed most of the season while recovering from knee surgery. He was inactive for Saturday's 100-97 loss at Chicago to rest the knee before hurting his calf in practice on Monday, forcing him to sit out Tuesday's win.
O'Neal, considered day-to-day, hasn't played at home since Nov. 12.
Point guard Jason Williams also sat out Tuesday due to a foot injury - his status for this game is uncertain - but Wade stepped up to score 28 points before sitting out the fourth quarter.
"I came in tonight wanting to get my teammates involved in the game," said Wade, who was 12-of-17 from the field. "Sometimes when I do that, it sets me up, too. I was getting a lot of open looks."
Miami snapped a three-game losing streak and won for just the second time in seven games.
By: Marc Young - theSpread.com - Email Us
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