CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – With the constant arms race between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, the reigning champions gained the ultimate weapon in Kevin Durant prior to last season.
That race is over.
The Cavaliers faced even more adversity with Kyrie Irving’s trade demand, but luckily for them, most teams are still adjusting to the defending Eastern Conference Champions instead of the Cavs still adjusting to their situation.
In order to eventually combat the Warriors’ small-ball lineup of death, Head Coach Ty Lue has gone small with Kevin Love at the center position and Jae Crowder at power forward. The teams looking up at Cleveland are looking to counteract that.
Love has met his new assignment with great success, holding his own against true centers, while finding his mark from deep. Crowder has struggled through a team change, lineup teams and the death of his mother, to name a few things.
Crowder and Love are starting to face another new look.
Their past two opponents have pitted Crowder, 6-foot-6, against their centers, while Love has been defended by speedier but smaller forwards.
The result has been two more Cavalier victories, making it 11 in a row, despite closer games. Lue called the tactic ‘mucking up the game,’ and game a resounding ‘no’ in response to a question about whether or not it was the new way to defend the Cavs. He did not expound on that answer.
“You can try anything,” he said. “You’re trying to win. When you’re trying to get a win, you try different things.”
As a matter of fact, the response from any Cavalier questioned about the tactic brought little intrigue. Until something works, or until they lose, that should be the case. The team will look at the tape to try and exploit the move, but success against this ploy in particular is important because of how it relates to their ultimate task.
Whether or not the Warriors would use Zaza Pachulia or JaVale McGee on Crowder is another issue, the matter of the team’s win streak is that their own small-ball look is succeeding. It has been good enough to rattle off 11 straight wins without one of their three best players, and it has been good enough to combat tactics to stop it.
Granted, the two teams that have employed it, Memphis and Atlanta, would be in the top-seven of the lottery should the season end today.
The Cavaliers will not play a true contender again until eight-days prior to the first matchup with Golden State. More than one of the seven teams on the schedule before the game in Washington on December 17th will employ the mucky approach, and if it keeps working, there may not be a reason for the Wizards to continue it.
The Warriors are unlikely to show much to the Cavs on Christmas Day, but could also test out something similar just to try it out. Regardless, the more that lineup sees, the better a chance it has to offset that of the champions.
With the Cavaliers’ revamped second unit, that gap could be closer than it seemed last June.