Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James says a home-and-home series with the Miami Heat feels like a "semi-playoff." These teams could be in for the real thing come April.Celebrating his 24th birthday, James looks to help the Cavaliers beat Dwyane Wade and the Heat for the second time in three days when the teams meet at Miami on Tuesday night.
Cleveland (26-4) has emerged as a dominant force in the Eastern Conference, challenging defending NBA champion Boston for the top spot. With Wade healthy, meanwhile, Miami (16-13) is sixth in the East and appears set to make a push for a playoff spot after last season's league-worst finish.
A postseason matchup between the teams would feature perhaps the league's two most dynamic players in Wade and James, who enters Tuesday looking to avoid falling to 0-3 in games played on his birthday. In the opener of this home-and-home set, James scored 33 points and took on the challenge of guarding Wade down the stretch as the Cavaliers improved to 16-0 at home with a 93-86 win over the Heat on Sunday night.
"It's kind of like a semi-playoff," James said. "(You see) the things that they did well, the things that you need to improve on for the next game or make adjustments, if there are any. We have got an idea of who they are, who played well the night before and what kind of rhythm their guys will be in."
James helped Cleveland clamp down on Wade, the league's leading scorer, and the Cavaliers held the Heat to 14 points in the fourth quarter. Wade finished with 29 points, but had six in the fourth with James on him and missed four of his final five shots.
James and Wade won an Olympic gold medal together this summer for the U.S. team in China.
"He's a difficult player to guard," James said. "But we've grown as a defensive team."
Cleveland has the league's top scoring defense, holding opponents to 89.1 points per game. The Cavs have allowed an average of 85.7 points during a six-game winning streak.
"It's still tough to get a stop on D-Wade," James said. "If he's not scoring, he's setting guys up to score. We've been in a lot of big games and we've gone against some of the top players in the game and tried to contain them. You can't stop D-Wade."
Miami shot 43.2 percent from the field as its four-game winning streak came to an end. The Heat have been held to 90 points or fewer in five of their last eight contests.
Mario Chalmers, Miami's starting point guard, strained his right hamstring in the fourth quarter and his status for this contest is uncertain. The rookie is averaging 9.9 points, 4.5 assists and 1.9 steals.
Cavs forward Wally Szczerbiak, meanwhile, sat out with a bruised right knee and is expected to miss at least one week. He has been bothered by soreness in his knee for several weeks.
Szczerbiak is averaging 6.6 points and 2.6 rebounds.