(David Liam Kyle)
The Miami HEAT host the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight at AmericanAirlines Arena. The HEAT, 9-3, sit atop the Eastern Conference standings for the first time this season. Tip off is set for 7:30 PM; coverage starts at 7 PM on Sun Sports.1. Kyrie Irving is out tonight, unfortunately, but just a little ways into his sophomore year, is he a Top 5 point guard?
Couper Moorhead: Let's see, there's Chris Paul and...yep, Kyrie Irving is a Top 5 point guard. His assist rates leave a little to be desired still, but that is also partly a function of being on a team that struggled shooting the ball. You can make an argument for other point guards being a better, and healthier, player today, but there's no way Irving isn't I. The conversation these days. Shame it'll take a little while for the public discourse to catch up.
Danny Martinez: It’s really hard to answer that question, which is a testament to just how good he is. Irving is certainly in the discussion for being a top-tier point guard, whether that means he’s top five or top ten it doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that Irving is a bona fide star. The Cavaliers have a lot to be excited about with him.2. Without Irving, where does Cleveland get its playmaking from?
Couper: Jeremy Pargo has been a decent fill in so far, but he can't drive-and-kick or run the pick-and-roll anything like Irving can in getting the offense started. That means Dion Waiters has to shoulder the burden, but even with flashes here and there, much of his playmaking is for himself, and he's already started regressing to the mean after a hot start taking jumpers off the dribble.
Danny: Jeremy Pargo delivered it for the Cavs earlier in the week, but I hope to see them rely on rookie guard Dion Waiters. Waiters has had some big games this season playing off the ball. I’d like to see him create for others. If he can do a capable job, Cleveland will have a scary backcourt in the very near future.3. Have we reached the point where LeBron vs. Cleveland doesn't really matter anymore?
Couper: That first game back in Cleveland two years ago was something special in terms of narrative and atmosphere - one of the few times the story lines were entirely appropriate - but since then each game has been less of an event. With so few of LeBron's former teammates on the team these days, and the national vitriol having died down significantly, the Cleveland-Miami matchup just feels like another game.
Danny: Yes and no. I’m sure there are many people who are still upset, but the Cavaliers organization has moved on. With Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters, the Cavaliers have some really fun building blocks. The storyline for these HEAT-Cavs matchups should be the Cavs’ young guns taking on the champion HEAT.4. Is Anderson Varejao one of the most underrated players in the league?
Couper: Funny how we forget about players when they miss such a huge chunk of time. Varejao had always been one of the league's best rebounding big men, he never takes plays off and has wonderful instincts in the pick-and-roll despite an inconsistent jumper. Combine that with standout defense and you easily have yourself an under appreciated big man. Now just imagine how people are going to react after a month or so without Irving.
Danny: Definitely. Varejao missed some time and had the misfortune of playing on some below average teams. That all led to fewer eyeballs on his game on a nightly basis. Varejao is efficient from the floor and dominates on the glass. In fact, he currently leads the NBA in total rebounding percentage. Hopefully Varejao gets his due this season. He’s been excellent.5. Spoelstra did some experimenting with lineups against the Bucks. Was there anything to it?
Couper: Rashard Lewis was sick, so that automatically makes it impossible to take much from it, but the biggest difference was playing a Ray Allen and Chris Bosh centric bench lineup early in the second quarter. Miami has struggled with scoring in the first six minutes of the second quarter for the last two seasons, and Spoelstra has often taken regular season games as a chance to try new things. We'll see if anything sticks without affecting the effectiveness of the rest of the rotation.
Danny: No. Rashard Lewis was sick. His absence shuffled everything up, so I wouldn’t read much into the substitution patterns. The HEAT did go with a fun three-guard lineup for a stretch in the fourth quarter, but that had as much to do with Milwaukee’s configuration as anything. Nothing to see here except for what Couper mentioned, those beginning of second quarter lineups.