How the Cavs Can Advance Without Love
*Photo via Tribune News
Keys for the Cavs to advance without Love
1. Find a rotation- Cleveland’s title hopes took a devastating blow when Kevin Love dislocated his left shoulder in game four of the Cavaliers first round series. Love underwent surgery for the shoulder and is out for the remainder of the playoffs. If healthy, the Cavs have eight legitimate rotation players, a sufficient number for a team to get through the grind of four playoff series. Unfortunately, with Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao (who tore his left Achilles in December) out for the remainder of the playoffs the number of rotation players for Cavaliers drops to six. In addition, they will be without one of these six players, J.R. Smith, for the first two games of the series due to suspension. Benches do get shorter in the playoffs, but they still have a huge impact on the outcome of a series. Matthew Dellavedova is one of the members of Cleveland’s bench that will be relied upon to make an impact for the Cavs. The problem with Dellavedova playing major minutes comes on the defensive end. Neither Dellavedova nor Irving play strong defense, which will be problematic against Derrick Rose. This also makes it difficult to play the two guards together. The Bulls do not have a player on their roster that the Cavs can hide one of their deficient defenders on. Another bench player that will be looked upon for contributions is Kendrick Perkins. With Love’s injury the Cavs will be very thin up front against a very big and physical Bulls team. Perkins will give the Cavs much needed physicality and toughness on the defensive end of the court.
2. Stay out of foul trouble- This key goes hand in hand with key number one. With the lack of depth on the Cavs roster they can ill afford for one of their key players to get into foul trouble. The Cavs are lacking two-way players and will be at a lost if any of the ones they do have are in foul trouble. The Cavs will have an especially difficult time if LeBron James gets into foul trouble.
3. Get Kyrie going- With Kevin Love injured, there is even more pressure for Kyrie Irving to produce. Kyrie passed his first test in helping the Cavs sweep the Celtics in his first ever playoff series. Kyrie must shoulder even more of the scoring with Love injured and Smith suspended the first two games of the series. Derrick Rose has looked like his old self, thus far in the playoffs, which is bad news for Kyrie and the Cavs. When Rose is healthy and playing well he is simply too big and strong for Kyrie Irving to guard. A healthy Rose is a tough cover for any point guard, but especially for a smaller point guard like Kyrie whose poor defense has been well documented throughout his career. Despite his defensive deficiencies Irving is magnificent on the other end of the floor. He is not yet the elite passer you want from your point guard, but he is improving in this area. He is a career 39% three-point shooter and was the 2013 three-point champion. In addition, it can be argued that he is the best finisher at the point guard position in the league and possesses the best handles in the NBA. Without Love I don’t think the Cavs can beat the Bulls unless Irving outplays Rose this series.
4. Play LeBron at the four- Without Kevin Love in the lineup, first year coach David Blatt should consider using more small ball lineups. Pairing Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov together for extended periods of time will be too damaging to the Cavs spacing. Say what you will about Love’s play this season, but the threat of Love as a shooter at the power forward position was a huge advantage for Cleveland. Love’s presence as a three-point shooter took one of the opposing team’s big men out of the paint, which opened up driving lanes for James and Irving. Neither Thompson nor Mozgov are much of an offensive threat outside of the paint, which will allow the Bulls big men to crowd the paint on James and Irving drives. Playing James at the four will help eliminate this problem. Having James at power forward allows the Cavs to have four shooters on the floor and puts the Bulls in a tough position defensively. The Bulls almost always have two of Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, and Nikola Mirotic on the floor. If the Cavs have Thompson and Mozgov playing together, the Bulls can just put their bigs on Cleveland’s bigs and have Jimmy Butler guard Lebron. If LeBron plays power forward the Bulls matchups become trickier to figure out. The Bulls will likely have Butler on James for nearly the entire series. If Butler is on James while James plays the 4, one of the Bulls big men will be forced to guard one of the Cavs perimeter players. This will cause mismatches in Cleveland’s favor. Rather than playing to Chicago’s strengths by having two traditional big men on the floor, Coach Blatt should force Tom Thibodeau to play to the Cavs style by using a small ball lineup.
5. Keep home-court advantage- The Cavs have home-court advantage in this series, and protecting it will be essential. The Cavs are by no means out of the series if they end up splitting the first two games of the series, but their chances of winning will decrease significantly. Cleveland needs to prove to themselves and to Chicago that they can beat the Bulls without Love. Winning the first two games will give the Cavs a lot of confidence heading into Chicago with Smith returning from suspension. Losing just one of the two games will swing the momentum in Chicago’s favor with the series shifting to a hostile Bulls crowd.