CLEVELAND (CBSMiami/AP) – One of the most intriguing matchups throughout this season has been between the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers.
LeBron James worked up a healthy sweat after practice, staying longer to go over plays with the Cavaliers' coaches before doing some post-up drills.
He knows what's ahead.
The calendar has flipped to April, and if the NBA standings don't change, James will face a first-round playoff series against Miami, the team he led to two titles and four straight finals before leaving last summer to go home.
James has never faced close friend Dwyane Wade in the postseason, but the possibility has got him thinking - and maybe switching into postseason mode a little earlier.
"Just to go against a champion, a competitor like himself and that franchise," James said of the chance for a Cavs-Heat matchup. "Obviously I'm not there yet, but I am kind of in playoff mentality."
Down to their final seven games of the regular season, the Cavaliers (48-27) returned from a two-day break Wednesday to prepare for Thursday's home game against the Heat (34-40).
James said he and his teammates were "really sharp" during practice, and the four-time MVP said the short retreat was good for body and soul.
Cleveland was worn out. After playing 15 of the last 20 games on the road, coach David Blatt gave his players some down time following a lackluster 87-86 win over lowly Philadelphia on Sunday. Blatt felt it was the perfect respite with important games this week against Miami and Chicago.
The rest proved especially valuable for Kevin Love, who believes it did his balky back some good. Love has had a back issue most of the season and he had to leave Sunday's game after being hit with an elbow. Following practice, Love reported that his back "feels good. Two days helped."
He didn't take part in the any contact, and Blatt said Love is a game-time decision against the Heat. Iman Shumpert (jammed ankle) was a full participant and is expected to face Miami.
Despite the current standings and the Cavaliers losing twice to Miami this season, Blatt said he isn't treating Thursday's game any differently.
"Still a lot of things that can happen of course on both ends," he said, "so I don't see any particular special preparation for that game."
The Heat topped Cleveland 106-92 on March 16 and won the season's first meeting 101-91 on Christmas, but lost by 20 in their only trip to Cleveland on Feb. 11.
Wade, who was inactive for the February defeat, has shined against James and the Cavaliers with 31.5 points per game in Miami's two wins.
His steady presence has been crucial for a Miami team that trotted out its 30th different starting lineup in Tuesday's 95-81 loss to San Antonio - the same game in which Wade surpassed his total from 2013-14 with his 55th game of the season.
"He has really, really dedicated time behind the scenes to give his body the best chance to perform," coach Erik Spoelstra said. "At this point in his career, I marvel at his dedication."
The 12-year veteran has topped 30 points on six occasions this season, all at home, but Miami's playoff chances may hinge on Wade finding a similar level of production for his team's three-game road trip.
The Heat own the No. 7 spot in the East by virtue of a tiebreaker with Brooklyn, and sit a half game ahead of No. 9 seed Boston.
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