The Miami Heat is looking to bolster its defense Wednesday night as they host a Cleveland Cavaliers squad bringing in a much-improved road presence.
The Heat are a contender in the Eastern Conference again this season, but took a beating at home on Monday, losing 120-111 to the Denver Nuggets. Denver shot 58.1 percent from the floor, and the game was never close once the Nuggets took control in the second quarter.
"Our defense is better than that," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
It would help if the Heat got off to a better start on Wednesday than they did on Monday, when they trailed by 20 points at halftime. That deficit was too much for the Heat to overcome.
The other issue for Miami is its injuries. The Heat were without their top two scorers on Monday -- Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro -- and they are questionable for Wednesday.
Those two players combine to average 45.4 points a game. Herro, who has missed two straight games due to illness/general body soreness, is the more likely of the duo to return on Wednesday. Butler, with a bruised tailbone, is considered day-to-day.
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers appear to be much improved this season, especially on the road, where the Cavs are 6-4, including two successive wins.
Last year, it took 44 games into the season for Cleveland to win six road games. This season, it took just 21 games to get there.
Cleveland's mix of young bucks and aging vets has shown promise, as in Monday's 114-96 win over Dallas. The Cavs led that game by as many as 31 points, shooting 56.3 percent from the floor.
The Cavs are having this success despite being without star guard Collin Sexton, who had surgery on his left knee on Nov. 17. Sexton, who led the Cavs in 2020-2021 with a 24.3 scoring average, will miss the rest of the season.
Cavs role players Dean Wade (calf strain) and Cedi Osman (back soreness) are questionable for Wednesday. Wade has averaged 6.1 points and 3.6 rebounds in starting the 11 games before missing the past two games. Osman is averaging 11.6 points, but missed Monday night's contest.
Still, the Cavs have an exciting young core that includes center Jarrett Allen, power forwards Evan Mobley and Lauri Markkanen, wing Isaac Okoro and point guard Darius Garland.
All five of those players are younger than 25, and they're all former first-round picks.
Garland leads the team in scoring (18.6) and assists (7.2), and Allen paces the club in rebounds (11.3).
Mobley, considered the frontrunner for NBA Rookie of the Year, is averaging 14.4 points and 8.0 rebounds.
On Saturday, he came back after missing four straight games due to a sprained elbow, and his return sparked a Cavs a convincing road win in Orlando.
"Our chemistry gets better every game," Mobley said.
Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said that Mobley and Allen are two of the best rim-protectors in the game, and their commitment is evident.
"Evan didn't take any days off when he was hurt," Bickerstaff said. "For a couple of days, he did everything in practice with his left hand. He wanted to be there with his teammates."
The Cavs have a couple of well-established veterans on the bench in guard Ricky Rubio, who had a 38-point game for Spain against Team USA in the Olympics over the summer, and forward/center Kevin Love.
--Field Level Media