CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers have “big” problems.
Not only did Cleveland enter its home game Monday against the Detroit Pistons having lost four of its last five at Quicken Loans Arena, it will now be playing “multiple games” without center Tristan Thompson due to a sprained right ankle.
Thompson stepped on the heel of a Denver player Saturday and continued to play, but the ankle swelled up drastically overnight. The Cavs have not said how long he is expected to be out, but it looks like there’s a good chance Thompson could miss several weeks, if not longer. He was in a walking boot Monday.
Thompson’s injury leaves 6-foot-9, 230-pound Larry Nance Jr., who is really a slightly undersized power forward, as the team’s starting center and lone healthy, proven big man.
Ante Zizic, a 6-11, 250-pound rookie who entered Monday having scored 17 points in 16 games with the Cavs going into Monday’s game, will be pressed into service, while the team could also look to sign someone.
Forward/center Kevin Love (broken hand) and forward Jeff Green (lower back soreness) also were out against the Pistons, with Love not expected to return until late this month. Green, who has missed three of the last four games but was reportedly seen roller skating Sunday, worked out Monday and could be back soon.
“We’re already not the biggest team in the league,” four-time league MVP LeBron James said. “We lose another one of our bigs. Without our starting frontcourt, (Love and Thompson), it’s going to be even more challenging to rebound.”
Coach Tyronn Lue, who missed the team’s morning shootaround due to illness, also made another tweak to his starting lineup. In addition to Nance replacing the injured Thompson, Rodney Hood started at small forward, with James moving to power forward.
Lue’s hope is that previous starter Cedi Osman will replace the energy Nance was supplying off the bench, and that the struggling Hood might get going offensively while playing with the first unit.
Nance’s first start with the Cavs came against 6-foot-11, 279-pound Andre Drummond, one of the strongest players in the league.
“He’s got to stay away from silly fouls,” Lue said. “We just have to protect him as much as possible.”
Zizic was slated to be the backup Monday — “Big Z’s ready,” Lue said — with James likely to play some center when Drummond wasn’t on the floor.
“We can’t run him into the ground,” Lue said of James. “I’m definitely not putting him on Drummond. I’ll put (6-3 point guard Jose) Calderon on him before I do that.”
Oscar goes to ...
Former Lakers great Kobe Bryant won an Oscar on Sunday in the Best Animated Short Film category for “Dear Basketball,” a six-minute animated film based on a poem he published on the Players’ Tribune website in advance of his 2016 retirement from the NBA.
James, who had a fairly big role in the highly acclaimed comedy “Trainwreck,” was asked if he ever dreamed of winning an Oscar.
“It’s never been one of my goals, but now that I’m in a movie and film, and the TV business and doing so many things, if at some point we can be nominated and win an Oscar, I never thought that would happen,” he said. “We’ve got some things in the works, so we’ll see what happens.”
On the road again
The Detroit game concluded a disappointing five-game homestand for the Cavs, who were 1-3 over the first four games and will now begin a season-long six-game road trip. Cleveland's next home game is not until March 19.
In the interim, the Cavs will play road games against Denver (Wednesday), the Los Angeles Clippers (Friday), the Lakers (Sunday), Phoenix (March 13), Portland (March 15) and Chicago (March 17).
Cleveland entered Monday third in the Eastern Conference, a half-game ahead of Indiana. The Cavs were a game ahead of No. 5 Washington, two games up on No. 6 Philadelphia, 2 1/2 ahead of No. 7 Milwaukee and 3 1/2 ahead of No. 8 Miami.
No. 9 Detroit, which is on the outside looking in, was 7 1/2 games back of Cleveland prior to Monday.
- The 10-day contract of guard Marcus Thornton expired without him playing for Cleveland, leaving the Cavs with two open roster spots and mandating they sign at least one player.
- Pistons point guard Reggie Jackson, who has been out since Dec. 26, has begun playing one-on-one but remains out while recovering from a sprained right ankle. There is no target date for his return.