Despite being without Donovan Mitchell for the better half of the last two weeks, the Cleveland Cavaliers have managed to stay afloat in the Eastern Conference.
Mitchell has played in only two of Cleveland's last seven games, and the Cavaliers will be hoping their superstar guard starts to return to form on Tuesday night when the Miami Heat come to town.
Cleveland currently sits at fifth in the East after losing four of its last seven games, a stretch that has largely been impacted by Mitchell's lack of availability. A groin injury forced Mitchell to miss three games before he played 38 minutes in last Tuesday's 105-103 loss to the New York Knicks.
The injury then flared up again, sidelining him for two more games, but he was back in action against the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday.
Mitchell logged just 20 minutes against the Clippers, scoring 11 points while dishing out three assists.
While the Cavaliers have run into some adversity that hadn't been present during their 8-1 start to the season, Mitchell noted that the team needs to stay patient and realize it finds itself in the middle of a marathon, not a sprint.
"There's some games where it's like, 'I don't care what the big picture is, we should win this game or we shouldn't have lost this one, or whatever,' and you have those moments, but I think that's all part of the growth," Mitchell said. "For us, a lot us, we haven't been to where we want to go.
"Understanding that aspect, I think that's the part of having the patience with that and understanding that the playoffs don't necessarily start in April, or May, whenever it is. They start on nights like these games coming up."
The Heat could be carrying a similar mentality into Tuesday's matchup after taking an ugly 122-117 loss to the lowly Charlotte Hornets on Sunday.
Miami led 81-72 with just under four minutes left in the third quarter, but went into the final period trailing by five points and never got over the hump in the final 12 minutes. Jimmy Butler finished with 28 points and seven rebounds on 11-of-14 shooting in the loss, while Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo chipped in 24 and 17 points, respectively.
"It started in the first half. I didn't think we came out with enough aggression, enough force on (defense), which, like I said, allowed them to get comfortable," Herro said. "By the fourth quarter, they were confident, comfortable, they were getting to their spots."
It was a rare defensive lapse for the Heat, who allowed the second-fewest points per game (108.4) in the league entering Tuesday. Cleveland happens to be the only team that surrenders less points to opposing teams at 106.9 per game.
That very Cavalier defense stole the show when these two teams last met on Nov. 20. Cleveland cruised to a 113-87 victory. Miami shot just 38.8 percent from the field and 19.4 percent from 3-point range, although the Heat were without Butler and Herro.
--Field Level Media