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Having gone through the autopsy of his team’s Walking Dead performance, at least defensively, against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday, Tyronn Lue is going to stick with what’s got him here.
For better or worse.
The Cavaliers coach said there will not be any lineup changes headed into a game Tuesday night at San Antonio. The Cavaliers were shellacked by the visiting Thunder, 148-124, at Quicken Loans Arena.
Why not shake things up, especially after tying the franchise record for points allowed, a mark that has stood since 1972?
“I just don’t want to,” Lue said at practice Sunday at Cleveland Clinic Courts in Independence. “Looking at film and what we’re trying to do, it’s not the best thing right now.”
“The best thing” for the struggling Cavaliers (27-18), who have won just three times in a dozen games since Christmas Day, is certainly up for debate.
Which was the case after the OKC game, when Isaiah Thomas and Dwyane Wade both calling for more accountability from the Cavaliers, Thomas going as far to say, “If guys ain’t doing the right job they need to come out the game.”
Asked about it, specifically, at practice Sunday, Lue had a matter-of-fact response.
“That’s why they’re players and I’m the coach,” he said.
Lue’s track record is to not make changes while the team is having difficulties as to not paint one or two guys as the one’s responsible for struggles or issues.
“It’s the same group we won 18 out of 19 with also,” Lue said. “We’ve just got to play better. We’ve got to play better, we’ve got to be sharper and that’s what we continue to keep working on.
“It’s the same team that won 18 out of 19 and 13 in a row.”
That’s accurate, to a point. Thomas (hip), Tristan Thompson (calf) and Derrick Rose (ankle), all playing minutes now, were not even dressing for games during that hot stretch, which came after the Cavaliers came out of the gate for the season at 3-5 and 5-7.
The point guard spot was being filled by Iman Shumpert and then Jose Calderon when Shumpert went down with a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery to repair. Sharpshooting big man Channing Frye was playing extremely productive minutes off the bench with the second unit, along with Wade, Kyle Korver and rookie Cedi Osman.
Perhaps coincidentally, as Thomas, Thompson and now Rose have worked their way back into the rotation, the Cavaliers’ results have taken a 180. At the same time, Shumpert is trying to work his way back, Frye only plays in garbage time as Thompson has taken his minutes, Korver is getting less time and Osman doesn’t get off the bench. In fairness, the schedule became much more difficult and the team has spent most of the 2018 portion of its schedule on the road.
Two members of the starting lineup, Jae Crowder and J.R. Smith, have simply been ineffective.
Crowder has never seemed to find his comfort zone since coming to Cleveland as part of the Kyrie Irving trade on Aug. 22 (the day his mother died) and is playing out of position and doing so in a role as a starter, whereas he’s cut his teeth in the league as a tough, hard-nosed, high-energy guy who comes off the bench.
Smith has struggled pretty much from the jump this season and has not produced at levels of which the Cavaliers have been accustomed, at either end of the floor. He has passed up open shot after open shot, not being the 3-point marksmen he has his entire career, and his defense has regressed noticeably.
Part of Lue’s solution is to hit the practice team more. As the oldest team in the league, the Cavaliers often eschew practices for time spent on walkthroughs or in the film room. Sunday’s practice, however, marked the third session in the past week.
Kevin Love was excused from the workout because of illness. Love, the Cavaliers’ second-leading scorer and leading rebounder, played but three minutes against Oklahoma City before leaving the game and not returning. His entire stat line — a missed 3-pointer from each corner.
“I think, with Tristan trying to still get in better shape from missing time, I think with D-Rose, Shump, with IT, they need it,” Lue said Sunday. “I think they’re not really gonna get up to speed just playing games, so we need more practices and that’s why we’ve been doing that as of late.”
Lue was encouraged by what he saw at practice Sunday.
“We’ve just got to continue to try and get better… I think the guys had a good practice today,” he said. “We covered a lot of defensive schemes, a lot of defensive things that we had breakdowns on (vs. OKC) and played a little 5-on-5 today,” he said. “So, we’ve got to continue to get better.
“No film (Sunday). Just move on.”