Originally posted on Stepien Rules  |  Last updated 3/20/13
I mentioned Dion Waiters twice this week in my Bleacher Report articles. On Monday, I considered him for the All-Second Half team before dismissing Waiters and others who aren't playing meaningful games at the moment.  I also ranked Waiters 10th on Tuesday among all NBA players with college eligibility remaining. The only other members of the 2012 Draft Class I had slotted ahead of the Cavs fourth overall pick were Damian Lillard (3) and Anthony Davis (5).  But just as I was getting excited about Waiters' recent surge heading into this Heat game tonight, he was ruled out with a ligament issue in his knee. While dreams of Waiters asserting himself--sans Kyrie Irving--against the mighty Heat died slowly on the fandom side of my brain, I decided tonight's game would be best met with tempered enthusiasm.  Extremely tempered. Outside of CJ Miles scoring fifty--in combination with a 20-20 performance from Tristan Thompson--this latest return of LeBron James to Cleveland expects to be the biggest seven-car-pile-up on I-90 yet.  It will take the group the Cavaliers will put on the floor's best effort of the season to lose by 12 points tonight. Unless, of course, Coach Spoelstra goes Gregg Popovich and sits each member of the Heat's Big Three. If I was Spo--even while riding a 23-game winning streak--I'd certainly consider as much. Unfortunately for Cavaliers fans, though, there is no way James doesn't ride his dunk-murder of Jason Terry into the Q while searching for more victims. He will find plenty on the court wearing Wine and Gold tonight, too. That's what I've been telling myself ever since Waiters was officially ruled out on Tuesday. Despite the epic heights that a player as awful as Ryan Hollins once reached in a similar moment--successfully defending Cleveland from a Miami invasion--there is no use hoping for anything like that tonight. Which is why I just want this game to end as quickly as possible.  As they're currently comprised, the Miami Heat are everything we thought they'd become when James first hit the shores of South Beach in 2010. Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and James are ALL shooting a career best field-goal percentage while defending last year's NBA championship.  Byron Scott told the NBA universe to simply hand James the MVP trophy right now this week, and he would've been right to say that two months ago.  Free from the burden of never have won an NBA title, James is playing the best basketball of his life. He is getting better with every game and his team is utterly unbeatable as a result. I fully expect Miami to sweep their way to the Eastern Conference Finals just as soon as the postseason begins. For as good as the Indiana Pacers looked dismantling the Cavaliers on Monday, I don't give them much of a chance against Miami in that potential series either. They'll get one win, but probably not two. I'd be comfortable betting the Heat in five, and then I don't see any team in the Western Conference extending a Finals series longer than six games. Whether it's the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers or an All-Star team of the Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors combined, Miami will win their second consecutive title in 2013. Which is great, in some ways, because by now I'm way past the point of rooting for other teams to beat them. I really don't care anymore. The fact that they are now the best team in the NBA is unavoidable, and my only hope is the carnage ends quickly tonight. It would be an escape from the typical feeling that's preceded most games in 2012-13 if we had an opportunity to measure Irving, Waiters, Tristan Thompson and the rest of the Cavaliers against the NBA's best tonight. Unfortunately, though, all we have is a former No. 23 on his way to 24.   The only real question that exists with this one is how James will be received by the fans in attendance. Sure, there will certainly be some booing--but while I don't care at all how fans decide to react--I also anticipate a louder surge of cheering than we heard last time he was here. Maybe those cheers will be rooted in the idea that he could come back in 2014. I wrote about that at Bleacher Report last month too, and I do believe it's a legitimate possibility. But maybe some of the cheers will be also rooted in the idea that we never really wanted a reason to boo the guy in the first place.     If he did come back to pair with Kyrie Irving in two seasons, the Cavaliers could become that title contender again the moment he signs on the dotted line. If not, maybe they'll mature into something similar without him...who knows at this point. What we do know now, however, is that tonight isn't the time to go looking for revenge on the scoreboard.  Unless, of course, C.J. Miles does combine with Tristan Thompson for 70 points and re-writes Cleveland Sports Folklore forever in the process. The very idea I unfortunately also expect to inevitably invade my stream of consciousness just before tip-off --no matter how much time I spend today convincing myself otherwise. Whichever way you decide to approach it personally, good luck tonight you guys. This one should be...interesting.
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