INDEPENDENCE, Ohio – Under the radar? That’s now out the window.
After decades of coaching — and successfully — across the world, now the basketball world is watching Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt more closely than ever. The Cavs are down a star as Kevin Love is out indefintely with a separated shoulder and down another key piece with J.R. Smith set to serve a two-game suspension.
The headlines surrounding this playoff run have changed quickly. LeBron James is still at the forefront of everything the Cavs do and Kyrie Irving still will have the ball most of the time when James does not, but the Cavs have been depleted and changed without two floor-stretching scorers, one for two games and one likely for the rest of the playoffs.
All Blatt has to do now is pick the right lineups, push the right buttons and guide his team through a strange set of circumstances. The Cavs just swept the Celtics out of the first round and await the Bulls-Bucks winner in a series that’s set to start May 4. So, they’re spending this week waiting and working with much uncertainty.
"There are a lot of different considerations, different lineups, and who our opponent will be will also determine what kind of adjustments we’re going to make," Blatt said Tuesday. "We’ll let that play out and in the meantime work on things specific only to us."
The offense will still run through James and Irving, so "we won’t change entirely," Blatt said. "But missing those two pieces (Love and Smith), there’s obviously going to be a difference in what we have on the floor. We aren’t going to try to reinvent the wheel but we’ll make adjustments when we have to."
Tristan Thompson has been playing well lately in a sixth-man role for the Cavs, who use Thompson as the power forward and center depending on lineups and matchups. Thompson made 15 starts in the regular season but the Cavs seeemed to click with Thompson coming off the bench, even in Love’s absence. With Smith out for the first two games of the next series the Cavs can insert Iman Shumpert into the starting lineup at the shooting guard spot; inserting James Jones or Shawn Marion to start the game at a forward spot before Thompson enters makes sense, too.
"We’re in the process of making our plan and taking all things into consideration," Blatt said. "We’re coming up with the different possibilities, of which there are many.
"It’s made it more difficult, there’s no getting around that. But on the other hand we haven’t made excuses all year. We’re not looking for any special consideration and it’s not coming. We have to get ourselves ready to play playoff basketball and to win playoff games."
The ability to have the 6’8 James defend multiple positions helps the Cavs, who often closed regular-season games with a small lineup that had James and Thompson at the forward spots and three guards to support them.
"I think what I bring to the game is…all facets, offensively and defensively, I try to put myself and my teammates in a position to succeed," James said. "I just want to win. I think guys are preparing themselves for the next challenge. We all have a lot to do (without) those guys.
"If I play more (down low), it’s just a different mindset. I’d have to change my mindset a little but if it comes to that I’m up to the challenge. I think we’ll make the right changes and our coaching staff will put us in position to have a chance to win every night."
A long week for the Cavs becomes a little longer as Blatt will evaluate what he sees on the practice floor, what he saw in the regular season and weighs opinions from his staff. But the fact remains Love was averaging 16 points, 9.7 rebounds and almost 34 minutes a game, and Smith has been averaging 12 points in almost 30 minutes per game, and the Cavs start the next series without either available.
So, maybe James has to do more. And maybe Blatt has to coach a little differently, too.
"Our guys have been locked in for quite some time," Blatt said. "I think everybody recognizes we all have to pick it up."