The Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat are two franchises that will always be connected by LeBron James. The superstar forward may have taken his talents to South Beach more than two years ago, but Cavs fans still love nothing more than beating the team that James currently plays for.
The Cavaliers (17-37) have been in rebuilding mode since James left in 2010, but have shown flashes of solid play this season. Behind All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, the Cavs are 6-4 in their last 10 games and are starting to come together as a team.
Miami (38-14) comes into the game as one of the hottest teams in the NBA with a 10-0 record over their last ten games. King James has been a huge part of that success. He's clearly been the NBA's best player averaging 27 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists per game on 56 percent shooting this season.
The last time these two met it was a great game. The Cavs led the Heat 108-101 with 1:58 left in the game before the Heat closed out the game with a 9-0 run to win it 110-108. However, this one should have an entirely different feel, the Cavs still had center Anderson Varejao and Irving was out of the lineup.
Here's everything you need to know in preparation of the big matchup in Miami Sunday.
Where: American Airlines Arena, Miami, Fla.
When: Sunday, Feb. 24, at 6:00 p.m. ET
Watch: Sun Sports
Live Stream: NBA League Pass
Key Injuries (via CBSSports.com as of Feb. 23, 2013)
Cavaliers: Anderson Varejao, out for season
Heat: Mike Miller, out
Key Storyline: Can Cavs Keep Up with NBA's Elite?
The Cavs have a promising young nucleus with Irving, Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters in the lineup. The question is how long it will take that nucleus to develop into a playoff contending team.
That's unlikely to happen this season, but good performances against the top teams in the league are the kind of thing that will make this a more confident team and speed that process up.
Irving has been compared to LeBron since being drafted by the Cavaliers and he missed out on the opportunity to play against the Heat when the two teams met in November. All eyes will certainly be on the emerging point guard as he tries to out-duel LeBron.
The Cavs are a team that is built for the future. If they can build the confidence that they can hang with anyone now, they'll be that much more dangerous when these young guns put everything together.
Key Matchup: Tyler Zeller vs. Chris Bosh
LeBron James is going to get his numbers. The way he's been shooting from mid-range, he's nearly impossible to guard. If the Cavs' chances of winning hinge on keeping James under wraps, they might as well not even take the floor.
What they can do, is slow down Bosh.
When Bosh is playing well offensively, the Heat are pretty much unbeatable. He's the x-factor that really determines how dangerous the Heat can be.
In the first game between these two teams Bosh went for 23 points on 6-of-11 shooting and was allowed 13 free throws—and that was with the defensively-adept Varejao in the middle.
Now the burden of guarding Bosh will be placed on the shoulders of Tyler Zeller. His defense will be crucial in how this game plays out.
X-Factor: Ray Allen
The addition of veteran shooting specialist Ray Allen has made the Heat that much more dangerous this season.
Just when you think you're getting a break from defending James and Dwyane Wade on the court at the same time, they slide Allen in there and he knocks down plenty of open threes.
The Cavs found out what kind of impact that Allen has had on the team when they last played. He went for 17 points off the bench on 6-of-11 shooting.
Depth has been a problem for the Heat since they formed the triumvirate of Bosh, Wade and James. Allen gives them a dimension they've never had. The Cavs let that be the x-factor in the last meeting, how they defend him this time around will change the complexion of the game.
Predicted Starting Lineups
PG: Kyrie Irving
SG: Dion Waiters
SF: Alonzo Gee
PF: Tristan Thompson
C: Tyler Zeller
PG: Mario Chalmers
SG: Dwyane Wade
SF: LeBron James
PF: Udonis Haslem
C: Chris Bosh
The Cavaliers set themselves up with a really good chance to win the first meeting with two minutes left. They led for the majority of the game and really had a meltdown to let the Heat come back.
However, that was then and this is now. The Heat have continually improved since the season began and the way LeBron has been playing they are just about unstoppable.
A huge performance from Kyrie Irving may keep the underdogs in this one for a while, but it's unlikely that they can keep up with the Heat for 48 minutes.
Don't expect this one to have a dramatic finish like the first meeting did. The Heat simply have too much momentum and are nearly perfect at home this season.
Heat 105, Cavaliers 95