After a week that has mostly been about rumors regarding LeBron James and Kyrie Irving being unhappy, came an interesting lineup change and move towards small-ball for the Cleveland Cavaliers, that is something like a last ditch attempt to jolt some new life into this team, and mostly generate some hope that it can make a difference in the NBA Finals, if they can make it.
The Cavs aren’t guaranteed a spot in the finals, despite the presence of LeBron James. The Toronto Raptors are breathing down their necks, and recent losses & ability bring more and more questions in regards to what the Cavaliers can actually do in the playoffs. Not just against the Warriors or Spurs if and when they meet, but even when it comes to winning the battles in their own backyard against the Raptors and who knows what else.
Against the Wizards, it seems, there’s not much to worry about. The Cavaliers cruised to a 108-83 win which in it they once led by 30 points. Tyronn Lue has moved James to the power forward position with Timofey Mozgov back in the lineup. This wasn’t just because Kevin Love wasn’t playing. James isn’t a huge fan of playing at the ‘4’, although the Miami Heat played their best basketball and won two championships with him as a power forward. This is the move the Cavaliers hope becomes some sort of game changer and helps them overcome their offensive and defensive woes recently.
James looked good. He didn’t shoot so well (7-of-18 from the field) and scored 19 points, but also grabbed 13 rebounds while adding 7 assists and 3 steals. He might play less of the point-forward role in this kind of lineup, with Iman Shumpert occupying the small forward spot but after setting screens for Irving and J.R. Smith, he has an excellent vision of the defense collapsing or reacting to a pick and roll, which once again utilizes his court vision and passing ability.
The one who looked most comfortable was Timofey Mozgov, finishing with 14 points. Kyrie Irving led the Cavaliers with 21 while Matthew Dellavedova, Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith all finished in double figures as well. The Cavaliers held the Wizards to just 39.5% from the field and the defense looked probably as good as it has all season long. Both Irving and Shumpert (who had just two points) finished with +25 during their 30 minutes on the floor. This was something of a refreshing ease for the Cavaliers, who have a two game lead over the Raptors.
Every move the Cavaliers make is with the Warriors in mind, which brings us to Kevin Love. The change here isn’t to give Mozgov minutes, but in order for Love to play the ‘5’ and a lot of minutes in it. If he falls into line on both ends of the floor, this could be an incredible success for Lue, maybe his first big win and decision as a head coach. Failure to turn Love into a small-ball center that doesn’t hurt the team on the defensive end means the Cavaliers are stuck in the same place, and probably destined to be disappointed in the postseason.