The Miami Heat are stuck in purgatory, waiting for Damian Lillard to get traded over. In the meantime, it lost Gabe Vincent to Lakerland, and Strus now reps Wine and Gold. Those two were part of the Heat’s special run from the Play-In Tournament to the NBA Finals, the NBA’s first ever tour of the sort. They’ve been replaced by Josh Richardson, in his second stint with Miami, but he’s been passed around more than free booze on New Year’s.
Deal or no deal, Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler aren’t going anywhere. Adebayo is similar to Mobley and Allen because he can defend at any spot. Butler operates like a free-roaming safety, anticipating bad passes in the lane. He also helps his teammates with timely doubles and can stop the ball. When defending JB, his man can’t get beat by the screen either and can never reach. Butler is one of the best in the league absorbing contact and finishing.
Miami can be counted on to have an efficient switching defense. A weakness to exploit though is its size when former Cavalier Kevin Love is on the bench and Caleb Martin is on the floor. Martin has good hands, but he’s just 6-foot-5. Someone should back him down, forcing a double team and opening somewhere.
New York Knicks
The primary concern with this rival isn’t Jalen Brunson feasting from 3-point range or on rim attacks or Julius Randle entering the paint like a raging bull; it’s stopping Mitchell Robinson from inflicting pain in the interior and glass. In round one last season, New York outrebounded Cleveland by 41 boards in five games, largely due to Robinson’s dominance there.
Robinson also demoralized the Cavs, vigorously sending back weak attempts, which caused the Cavs to play from the outside for too long. He abused the Cavaliers because he is so much stronger than the frontline. The answer to stopping the Block Ness Monster is to get in the weight room and match his iron.
And the Philadelphia 76ers are a mess. James Harden doesn’t want to hang around, and if he does, he’ll likely spoil the vibes as he has before. To his displeasure and my amusement, the Bearded One has realized that the “Flippers” don’t want to meet president Daryl Morey’s exorbitant trade demands. That’s right. Being a late-season disappearing act only buys you so much credit. If only he were smart enough to notice that Joel Embiid is better than Kawhi Leonard and Paul George today.
Anyways, hiring coach Nick Nurse was a solid move because he is a fine defensive tactician who will also get Embiid to abandon the bad habit of getting trigger-happy from outside in front of small guys. Nurse will also fix the lack of ball movement and lackluster off-ball relocation at times that plagued the 76ers under Doc Rivers.
Tyrese Maxey has been Philly’s best transition threat for the last two years. He is an emerging player who can present issues to the Cavaliers because of his speed in the halfcourt and accurate long-range jumper as well. Pick-and-pop action with Tobias Harris, while Embiid camps in the dunker spot or low post, would be difficult for anyone to cover due to multiple reads available.
If PJ Tucker starts, it’s a bonus for the other team because it can play five-on-four when Philadelphia has the ball. He’s only a threat in the corners, and he takes just 1.9 triples a game.
Early 2023-24 standings prediction:
1. Boston Celtics
2. Milwaukee Bucks
3. Cleveland Cavaliers
4. Miami Heat
5. New York Knicks
6. Philadelphia 76ers
7. Indiana Pacers
8. Atlanta Hawks
9. Chicago Bulls
10. Toronto Raptors
Hopefully, the Cavaliers’ new additions can make a difference for the Wine and Gold come playoff time. This is a talented Cleveland squad, but Mitchell, Mobley and company have to be much better then next season.