INDEPENDENCE — His struggling and bickering team having lost 10 of its last 13 games and 11 of its last 15, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue finally did what fans have been clamoring for: He announced a lineup change.
It wasn’t the one most people expected, however, as mired-in-a-year-and-a-half-long-funk shooting guard J.R. Smith will continue to start.
Rather, Tristan Thompson will move back into the starting lineup at center, with Kevin Love shifting to power forward and Jae Crowder going to the bench, Lue revealed following practice Thursday.
The revamped lineup will be on display tonight when the Cavs (27-19) host the Indiana Pacers (26-22) at Quicken Loans Arena.
“Jae’s been playing good the last few games,” Lue said of Crowder, who is averaging 8.7 points and 3.3 rebounds while shooting .324 on 3-pointers. “It had nothing to do with Jae. He’s been great. He’s all about the right things. He’s all about the team.
“You hate to make these changes. I’m not saying it’s permanent. ... He’s about the team. I went to talk to him this morning and he said, ‘Whatever’s best for the team, I’m all in.’ It was great talking to him.”
Still left to sort out is how Lue will use his bench, which includes Crowder, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Jose Calderon, Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, Cedi Osman and Channing Frye.
The most players Lue has successfully used in his rotation has been 10, meaning three of those players are unlikely to see action. Calderon, Osman and Frye will probably be the odd men out.
Another player also could be out of the mix, as Lue’s plan is to take out Thompson early and put him back in with the second unit.
“We’ve still got a lot of guys we’ve got to play, a lot of guys on this roster,” Lue said. “We’ve been trying to think of ways to get (Frye) back in the rotation. It hasn’t happened yet, but it’s still to come. There’s a lot of games to be played. We’re going to continue working on that.”
Lue said he contemplated changes in his starting backcourt, but decided to stick with Isaiah Thomas and Smith, who has been hesitant to take open 3-pointers and is struggling mightily at the defensive end.
The 5-foot-9 Thomas also has been a huge defensive liability, but Lue’s hope is that Thompson’s long-armed presence and ability to guard on the perimeter will help against the pick-and-roll, where Thomas and Love had been exposed.
“T-Top defensively will help us out a lot,” Lue said of Thompson.
The move also returns Love to his natural power forward position, which Lue hopes will allow the All-Star to get more shots inside.
“Kevin felt good about it,” Lue said. “Offensively, now he can post more fours. We can get back to posting him more.”
With combo guard Iman Shumpert close to returning to action, more moves could be in Cleveland’s future, but Lue wants to take a look at a lineup of Thomas, Smith, LeBron James, Love and Thompson first.
“I think it’s a good adjustment for us,” the coach said. “We’ll see how it goes going forward.”
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