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How the Cavaliers could attack the Warriors defense if Kevin Love sits

Assuming Kevin Love is out one or more games with a concussion, what adjustments should the Cavaliers make to give themselves a fighting chance?

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

If Kevin Love misses any time, he will leave a usage vacuum in his wake. The Cavaliers have struggled offensively even with his shot creation skills. If he's absent a very different rotation schedule will be required. Let's begin by breaking down the remaining rotation players by how much usage they are capable of absorbing while remaining effective:

Ridiculous usage: LeBron James

Very high usage: Kyrie Irving

High usage: none

Medium usage: J.R. Smith, Channing Frye

Low usage: Matthew Dellavedova, Timofey Mozgov

Very low usage: Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert, Richard Jefferson

Calling J.R. and Channing medium usage players is a bit generous, as neither should be much higher than 18 percent ideally. Clearly, then, LeBron and Kyrie will have to shoulder heavy burdens. That being the case, it is necessary to stagger their minutes so that one of them will ALWAYS be on the court. No exceptions.

Let's try to build a rotation that keeps enough usage and spacing on the floor at all times, and ideally wouldn't be a dumpster fire defensively.


(Beginning and end of each half, 24 minutes total)

PG - Kyrie Irving, expected usage of 28 percent

SG - J.R. Smith, expected usage of 18 percent

SF - LeBron James, expected usage of 28 percent

PF - Tristan Thompson, expected usage of 10 percent

C - Channing Frye, expected usage of 16 percent

This unit played only 38 minutes and 78 possessions together this season. In that brief time, however, they were +22. This group has a very nice balance offensively. Kyrie, J.R. and Channing are all excellent three point shooters. Tristan is one of the best offensive rebounders in the league. And LeBron can attack from a variety of angles with this group:

a) Screen setter in a pick and roll with Kyrie.

J.R. and Channing space the floor, while Tristan lurks along the baseline waiting for an opportunity to dive toward the rim for a lob or an offensive rebound if his man helps toward Kyrie or LeBron.

b) Ball handler in a pick and roll with Tristan.

Pretty straightforward set, with three shooters spacing the floor. Kyrie is very dangerous attacking closeouts in situations like this.

c) Ball handler in a pick and roll with Channing.

Perhaps a better option that Tristan rolling to the rim, as Channing's perimeter gravity will force one defender to stay near the arc instead of chasing LeBron as he drives to the rim.

d) Off-ball during a Kyrie - Tristan pick and roll.

LeBron has immense gravity even when he's off the ball. No, he's not a great spot up shooter, but the threat of him cutting to the rim for a devastating dunk has to be accounted for. The Kyrie-Tristan pick and roll works better as a primary action than the version featuring LeBron as the ball handler. This is because Kyrie is a very real threat to pull up from three, so the two defenders can't simply drop towards the paint. This added threat of a pull up jumper allows more creativity at the point of attack. For example, Tristan could reverse the screen instead of immediately rolling to rim, which can become predictable. It also enables Kyrie to reject the screen altogether, using his quickness and handles to dart to the rim if the opposing big is waiting to meet him on the other side of the screen. These options simply aren't a real threat in the LeBron - Tristan pick and roll.

e) Off-ball during a Kyrie - Channing pick and roll.

This one is a bit tricky, as you have two non-shooters off the ball in LeBron and Tristan. However, putting two guys that can shoot in the primary action can bend a defense in ways that really open things up away from the ball. Golden State uses this to great effect in their offense.

As you can see, this lineup offers a wide array of offensive possibilities. This is important, because the Cavs' offense was very predictable in the first two games of the series.

Notice that none of the above options include a post-up. While I don't mind LeBron posting up as a change of pace here and there, I don't think the Cavaliers' offense will ever operate at peak efficiency when centered upon that action.

Defensively, this group should be solid as well. Channing is a better rim protector than Kevin, which allows Tristan to play his natural defensive position of power forward without the team giving up so many easy buckets around the rim.

Bench unit while LeBron is resting

(end of the 1st and 3rd quarters, 6 minutes total)

PG - Kyrie Irving, expected usage of 38 percent

SG - Matthew Dellavedova - expected usage of 16 percent

SF - J.R. Smith - expected usage of 20 percent

PF - Tristan Thompson, expected usage of 10 percent

C - Timofey Mozgov, expected usage of 16 percent

This is the time for Kyrie isolations and mid-range jumpers. Slow down, pound the rock for 15 seconds, then create a reasonable shot attempt and crash the boards. The goal should be to play as few possessions as possible while LeBron is out of the game. It also means avoiding the risks inherent in passing the ball many times, as turnovers increase the pace of play considerably while offensive rebounds can drag possessions out.

Bench unit while Kyrie is resting

(beginning of the 2nd and 4th quarters, 8 minutes total)

PG - Matthew Dellavedova, expected usage of 18 percent

SG - Iman Shumpert, expected usage of 10 percent

SF - Richard Jefferson, expected usage of 14 percent

PF - LeBron James, expected usage of 42 percent

C - Channing Frye, expected usage of 16 percent

Not much needs to be written about this group. In 70 postseason minutes and 129 possessions this group is +49. They've simply dominated the opposition to the degree than Kerr put three starters plus Andre Iguodala on the floor to counter it in game two. Any bench unit that forces this kind of adjustment from the opposing head coach is certainly doing its job.

Some have proposed using this lineup more frequently, but as you can see LeBron is expected to shoulder a very heavy burden with this group. Using it any more than 12 minutes per game might be asking too much from him. Besides, this lineup wouldn't be nearly as effective playing against the opposing starters, which would be unavoidable if Tyronn Lue decided to stick with them for more than four or five minutes at the start of the 2nd and 4th quarters.

These lineups don't cover all 48 minutes, as I would expect the starting lineup to fade into the bench unit, and vice versa, rather than using hockey-style substitutions. Moreover, they don't cover every possible scenario, such as trying to make up ground or hold a lead late in the game. But I do think these are the lineups the Cavaliers should depend upon if Kevin Love misses one or more games.

These lineups are designed to optimize LeBron and Kyrie. Quite simply, they both have to play great in order for the Cavs to beat the Warriors. Good news! Most of the time they do, in fact, play great. The last two games have been out of character performances. Let's hope the home crowd helps them to get back on track.

This rotation schedule would lean heavily on Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith, both of whom have been fairly ineffective so far in this series. Well, I'm simply not ready to reduce their minutes simply because the game plan didn't work early in the series, and I hope Coach Lue is on the same page. For better or worse, the Cavs' hopes depend upon these two. Adjusting to the Warriors identity is part of what got the Cavs into this mess. Further changes to their own identity won't get them out of it. Tristan and J.R. simply need to play better, and I'm confident they will.

Is this series over? Far from it. The Cavaliers haven't lost a home game this postseason. In fact, the average margin of victory has been 21 points, with only the first playoff game against Detroit ending with less than an 11 point margin. Winning a game at the Oracle will no doubt be a great challenge. But winning at the Q? It's to be expected.