There was a cloud over the Cavaliers’ series clinching win over the Boston Celtics on Sunday, because of the shoulder injury to Kevin Love and the looming suspension of J.R. Smith.
So, when play resumes with the Eastern Conference semi-finals on Monday, the way the wine and gold play, and who they play will be quite different from the one that has rolled to 39 wins in their last 48 contests.
Losing two starters is definitely going to effect the Cavs, whether they want to admit it or not.
Both of the players help with floor spacing because of their abilities to make three-point shots. So, does David Blatt replace them with other players with that talent, or does he try to win a bit differently.
Many have speculated that James Jones may get the start in Love’s spot, and while Jones has the ability to fill it up from beyond the arc, he cannot rebound like Love and doesn’t have the bulk to defend near the basket.
To be sure, if Jones starts, he won’t get Love’s minutes, and without doubt we will see a lot of Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson together on the floor.
Thompson is a better defender than Love, so perhaps the Cavs won’t need to score as much with that tandem on the court.
As for Smith, the logical move would be to move Iman Shumpert into the starting lineup, since that was probably how it was supposed to be before Smith fit like a glove along with the rest of the starters.
And although Smith played solid defense for Cleveland, Shumpert is better on that end of the floor, so again the gain will be when the Cavs don’t have the ball.
Then the question becomes who replaces Shumpert in his role? The obvious answer is veteran Mike Miller, another guy who can stretch the floor with the three-point shot, but he hasn’t been accurate all year-long, hitting just 32.7% from behind the line, compared to almost 41% for his career.
Or Blatt could choose to go with even more defense and put Shawn Marion out there.
Without a doubt, all three of the veterans picked up in the off-season (Jones, Miller, and Marion) are going to be counted on to be contributors in the next series, and really Kendrick Perkins can be added to this list.
Most figure the next opponent for Cleveland will be Chicago, based on no one ever losing a series once they have a 3-0 lead.
If that is true, it will be difficult for the Cavs to win without Love, no matter what kind of strong face the organization puts on the situation. Love was very important to the offense because of floor spacing. His ability to make shots from outside opened up driving lines for LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
Can the Cavs still win? Of course, but they will need to get contributions from guys who haven’t given them much in the first round, meaning Miller, Marion, and Perkins.
They still have two of the league’s best players in James and Irving, and remember the Cavaliers advanced to two Eastern Conference finals and one NBA Finals with rosters not as talented as this one.
That’s the power of LeBron James.
And he plays for Cleveland.