2014 NBA schedule: LeBron James returns to Cleveland on light NBA night

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Playoff picture in the Western Conference shaping up to be a battle down the stretch.

Tuesday night is a bit lacking in terms of matchup firepower, but we all need to eat, right? Besides, there are a few games on the schedule that hold some sort of playoff implications for teams battling at the middle and bottom of the conference standings. We're winding down to the point that nearly every game matters, so watch these in context with what else is happening in the league. It'll be better that way.

Appetizer: Miami Heat at Cleveland Cavaliers

7 p.m. ET, League Pass

If LeBron James is playing in Cleveland, especially on a light night in the NBA, chances are this game will make its way onto our menu. It's always worth it for the fan reaction, even if the vitriol has died down. And given James' impending potential free agency, those jeers have turned into cheers pretty quickly.

As for the game, Miami has been reeling a bit. The champs have lost five of their last seven games, though they did get back on track recently with a win over the Rockets on Sunday afternoon. Still, the Heat are now two games back in the loss column of the Indiana Pacers for first place in the Eastern Conference, so if they care at all about seeding, wins are going to be very important from here on out.

Unfortunately, there will be no LeBron vs. Kyrie Irving. The explosive point guard will miss at least the next two weeks after straining his left bicep against the Clippers on Sunday, so the element of star-power has diminished slightly in this one. You never know, though. These are the kinds of games where everyone else steps up to play above and beyond.

Main Course: Toronto Raptors at Atlanta Hawks

7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV

It's the only matchup of the night between two teams currently in the playoff picture and it's on NBA TV, so behold your game o' the night. It's not the sexiest game you can imagine, but it certainly is important. Toronto has been the most consistent team in the East not named Miami or Indiana, having not lost two consecutive games since early February. The current three seed will be looking to rebound from a loss in this one, though, after falling to the Suns on Sunday. And a win would be good, as the Bulls are hanging around, just two games back in the loss column.

And how about those Hawks? After enduring an absolutely awful stretch of basketball during which they lost 14 of 15 games, Atlanta has now won four straight and is battling with the Charlotte Bobcats for the seventh seed. The two teams are tied in the loss column at the moment, so any win here is big. Though without much pressure from the ninth-seed Pistons — currently five games back in the loss column — neither team is in a dire situation, unless they're trying to get up to that sixth seed in an effort to avoid the Heat or Pacers in the first round.

Dessert: Orlando Magic at Golden State Warriors

10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass

Suddenly, the Warriors appear to have a chance to make a move up in the Western Conference standings. They've been stuck in that sixth spot for quite some time now, playing up and down basketball and generally just floating by as teams in front pulled away a bit and the squads behind them have started making moves. Well Golden State is now 7-3 in its last 10 contests and just one and a half games behind the Portland Trail Blazers (who host Milwaukee on Tuesday) for fifth out West. And, more importantly, the Warriors have Dallas and Memphis — both just a game back in the loss column — breathing down their neck, so taking care of business at home against the young and tanky Magic is a necessity in this one.

The rest of the schedule:

Milwaukee Bucks vs. Portland Trail Blazers, 10 p.m. ET, League Pass

Washington Wizards vs. Sacramento Kings, 10 p.m. ET, League Pass

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