LeBron’s impact has been felt by both teams
The Heat and Cavaliers enter this Christmas day matchup following a rocky start to the season for the new look Cleveland Cavaliers in Lebron’s first season back with the team that drafted him. The Cavaliers have since found their way and are now playing strong basketball headed into their matchup with the team that Lebron James spent the last four seasons with. After Lebron James left Cleveland the Cavaliers finished the following season with one of the worst records in the NBA to earn them the first overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft. The Heat do not seem to be headed for a lottery pick in the 2015 draft, but they currently have a losing record even after doing a good job of retaining the talent that was around Lebron James during their four straight championship appearances. With the Cavaliers slow start to the season, came questions about how Lebron was aging as an NBA player that is approaching the end of the years that mark his physical prime. Lebron has been able to answer those questions recently as he and the young Cavaliers team have gotten on track in their efforts to meet expectations for the 2014-15 NBA season. A matchup with the Heat gives the Cavaliers a chance to use them as a measuring stick for where they are at this season, while showing NBA fans the true impact of having a player like Lebron James on an NBA roster.
Where are the Heat headed after LeBron’s departure?
The Heat brought back Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh as two of the three players from their 2013-14 Eastern Conference Champion roster who became free agents following the season. With these two stars returning to the Heat, it became easier to try to maintain the pace they had established in the previous four seasons as they tried to replace Lebron James on the roster. Two time all-star small forward Luol Deng was brought in to replace Lebron James in the starting lineup, along with the Heat drafting point guard Shabazz Napier to join Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole in the Miami back court rotation. To this point in the season these additions have not been even sufficient in their efforts to replace the production lost by the departure of Lebron James. At 13-16 through 29 games played, the Miami Heat currently do sit in an NBA Eastern Conference playoff spot, but they are not in position to make a deep run into the postseason as they have done in the past four seasons. With Lebron’s current team not sitting at the top of the conference yet, there is some hope that the Heat could pull off an upset in the first round of the playoffs, but overall they do not have enough talent to make a championship run. With the season not yet at the halfway mark, there is plenty of time to see if the Heat can surge forward to improve their playoff position, or if they will fall in the standings down the stretch run.
Does LeBron have what it takes to lead another championship run?
With Lebron turning 30 this month along with his slow start to the season, there were questions about how much Lebron has left to offer after playing a physical brand of basketball for more than 11 seasons in the NBA. While he is not shooting at the same extremely efficient rate that he did the past two seasons with Miami, Lebron is still very close to matching his career averages in each of the three major categories used to measure an NBA player’s production. With the Cavaliers just starting to get on track recently, Lebron is now shooting 49 percent from the floor to go along with 25.2 points per game in over 37 minutes of action in each contest. With over seven assists per game this season Lebron is doing a great job to get his teammates involved in the game as they make their push to the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Lebron still has what it takes to lead a championship run because he has been patient with his young Cavaliers teammates, and he has allowed them to get involved in the game even when they were missing a large percentage of the shots he was setting up for them. Lebron completely understands that championships are won with a team effort, and he is willing to do whatever it takes to help elevate his team to the level that is necessary to defeat the elite teams in the NBA throughout a seven game series.
With both teams being relevant for this matchup where Lebron returns to Miami to face his old team, all eyes will be on this huge Christmas day matchup as the Cavaliers look to continue the strong play that they have established recently. This will be an opportunity for the Heat to make a statement to Lebron James as they look to remain a contender following his departure, but the story here will be the response of Miami fans to Lebron’s return to the place he called home the past four seasons. With plenty of storylines in this huge holiday matchup, it will be interesting to see which team is able to set the tone early and overcome the distractions that come with the storylines that surround the game. Ultimately the outcome of the game will only decide just one win and one loss in the standings for each team, but the significance of the game will have much more meaning for the fan bases of each of these teams.