I alluded to it previously with the quick recap of the Cleveland Cavaliers embarrassing Game 1 loss to the Indiana Pacers, but the Cavs need to revamp their starting lineup. Jeff Green has provided stability and energy for the wine and gold this season in a much more profound role than what Richard Jefferson held with Cleveland the past few seasons, so he has an argument for some minutes. I am not too sure it is as a starter, though. He looked lost offensively, shooting an imperfect 0-for-7 in Game 1 against the Indiana Pacers and going 0-for-3 from three-point range. The Cavaliers are best when they have efficient three-point shooting and efficient scoring to combat LeBron’s guaranteed double-digit scoring output on a nightly basis. Not only was he basically nonexistent offensively, but Green was also poor on the defensive end, struggling to keep up against the Pacers backcourt.
Rodney Hood, who played a little less than 21 minutes, also did not play an extensive, as he is working back from an achilles injury. The Cavs have been at their best (and sometimes their worst) with JR Smith, and with his 50 percent shooting from beyond the arc Sunday night and an added end-of-the-season improvement, Swish has proved he deserves his shot back with the starters. He has been putrid at times this year, but Smith’s biggest games with Cleveland have come under the brightest lights in the playoffs. Playing alongside James and Love is a comfortable and favorable role for the sharpshooter and it allows the Cavs to stretch the floor and add more spacing than what they have with Hood and Green.
The wine and gold shot just 23.5 percent as a team from three-point range in Game 1, and that is not going to cut it for the Cavs if they want to win games. The wine and gold are at their best when they are on from deep, and JR gives the Cavs best opportunity and highest probability to adding the much needed long range shot (when he is on) to the offensive end of the floor.
It is not to say that Hood has not been effective in his starting role, but the Cavs need more production on the offensive end in order to win games. Sunday’s Game 1 proved that. Tyronn Lue’s poor managing of the lineups caused Hood to sit while Green stunk it up, on both ends of the floor for the Cavs. Moving Hood and Green to the bench and inserting Smith and Larry Nance Jr. into the starting lineup seems like the most serviceable way to reshape the starting unit and reassign minutes after Sunday night’s loss.
When the Cavs acquired Hood from Utah, they envisioned his role being similar to Iman Shumpert when Shump was at his best during his stint with the Cavs. Shump was a better defender at his peak than Hood and Hood is a more consistent three-point shooter, but his role would look much better coming off the bench. The Cavs need familiarity in the starting lineup, and James-Love-Smith have been at the core of it for the Cavs three previous NBA Finals’ runs.1
Green has been at his best this season when he has provided a spark off the bench. With the way the Cavs have played for the majority of this season, they have preferred Love at the five for his rebounding abilities. Cleveland has also liked Nance at the five, but during his time with the Lakers he spent a good share playing the four. Nance has also proved at times that he plays extremely well alongside James, and he was outstanding at times in the starting lineup as a scorer and on the boards earlier this spring. To maximize his time with No. 23, inserting him into the starting lineup seems like the most logical solution.
With the makeup of the bench, this would decrease Green’s minutes to keep Hood in a leading bench role, but Green playing less minutes is for the better at this point in time. Hood can also be inserted at the three to play alongside Hill, Smith, James, and Love when the Cavs want to add a stealth shooting lineup throughout the game. That lineup gives No. 23 plenty of shooters to not only spread the floor and open paint, but to dish it out for an open look as well.
Kyle Korver was supposed to add a majority share of support to the Cavs’ weakness of scoring from deep, but he is on limited minutes due to a foot injury. The sharpshooter played less than four minutes in Game 1, missing all three of his shot attempts as he continues to ease his way back onto the floor. Until then, if Smith receives the starting nod and Hood heads to the bench, the Cavs will lack a firepower shooter off the bench until Korver is fully healthy, or at least healthy enough to fill that role. Hood might be able to do that, but he has to be in his groove, something that he has struggled at finding since joining the wine and gold.
Something also has to be done about James’ playing time. On Sunday, he played almost 44 minutes and of course played all 82 regular season games. Yes, the guy has essentially proved he is invincible, but something or someone needs to cut down that load on his legs. Who that is is yet to be determined and is a tough answer (especially after Sunday’s loss), but it has to be someone. It doesn’t have to just be one person, either. The Cavs just have to find a way to ease No. 23’s load going forward, especially in the offensive end.
On the defensive end, Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo is causing more problems than what Paul George caused the Cavs previously in the playoffs. In Game 2 last year, PG-13 was lights out, but Oladipo has provided the Pacers with an extra lift. He has Indiana firing on all cylinders and creating havoc for Cleveland on the defensive end. With Myles Turner (16 points in Game 1) and Bojan Bogdanovic (15 points) supporting him in the starting unit, it is worrisome for an already diminished Cavaliers’ defense.
I am not worried that the Cavs are in jeopardy of getting beat in the series, or even seeing six or seven games against the Pacers. However, these things all need to be sorted out before the wine and gold see better competition such as the Toronto Raptors later on in the postseason. We knew coming into Sunday that Indiana was going to cause trouble for the Cavs, and likely push the series to at least five games. I expect the Cavs to look much better in Game 2 and hopefully Lue with follow through with a necessary (and much needed) shakeup with the starting lineup.
- They are just three of the remaining four players left from the Cavaliers championship team in 2016. Tristan Thompson is the other, who barely saw the floor in Game 1 and seems to be out of the rotation for the rest of the postseason. [↩]