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Cleveland Cavaliers playbook: Cleveland’s new plays exploit opposing centers

Tyronn Lue has inserted two new sets into the offense that use Kevin Love’s shooting ability against opponents.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Over the Thanksgiving break, Cavs’ head coach Tyronn Lue had some time to head back to the drawing board and mix in a few new halfcourt sets.

Beginning with the home game against Charlotte, the Cavs have featured two new plays designed to use their shooting bigs to take advantage of opposing defenses.

Here is a look at how these two sets have been successful.

Horns Backdoor

The first play is run out of a traditional Horns set with LeBron James and Kevin Love stationed at the Elbows.

J.R. Smith comes off a screen from LeBron and appears to make an “Iverson Cut” directly to the opposite wing. At the same time, Jae Crowder vacates the weakside corner.

The ball is then entered into James. Watch what happens next.

Instead of cutting out to the opposing wing, Smith loops around Love and cuts backdoor. Love screens Smith’s trailing defender, opening the lane for LeBron to find Smith with a pass.

Watch the play again against Charlotte:

Even though Marvin Williams does a better job of helping off Love, he eventually retreats to Love before Jeremy Lamb is able to recover. The result is again a Smith layup.

This play is successful because of Love’s gravity as a three-point shooter. Even though Williams becomes disconnected for a brief second, his fear of Love popping for 3 overcomes his instinct to protect the rim.

In both cases, Smith’s man gets caught on Love’s screen long enough to leave both defenders watching as Smith finishes the easy bucket.

Post Wheel

The next play is set up with the point guard handling on the right point and LeBron James on the right block. The remaining three Cavaliers are in a straight line on the left point.

The point guard then enters the ball to James in the post.

The Cavs have shown five different options off this set in three games of use.

The first option arises when the three wing defenders are pressed up to the Cavs wings to take away any shots from the outside. If James can establish post position, the point guard can dump the entry pass over the top into the vacant paint for a layup.

Dwight Howard, worried about guarding a wing player (Crowder) is out of position and gets beat over the top.

The second option is similarly created by the defense sticking too close to Cleveland’s wings. Here, Wade looks like he’s simply cutting through to the weakside corner. But he slows his cut enough for James to dump the ball over top of Kemba Walker.

The third option takes advantage of a defensive overreaction to the Cavs exploiting the vacant paint.

Dwight Howard, once again guarding Crowder, sinks into the paint to close down any over-the-top feeds. Watch how the Cavs react:

Howard points at Crowder but Love and Smith turn and screen their own men, preventing them from helping. This creates a 3-on-2 advantage for the Cavs, leading to a wide open Crowder 3.

The fourth option is used to counter a hard double, which the Hawks employed on both James and Love post-ups.

The Cavs are once again left with a 3-on-2 advantage on the backside. Instead of screening their own men, this time Smith sets a quick pindown for Love. Kent Bazemore, guarding Smith, tries to prevent an open 3 by switching out to Love.

But the Hawks forget that they are at a disadvantage. This reaction to the Smith-Love action leaves Crowder wide open again from distance.

The final option once again exploits Love’s gravity as a shooter. Korver and Love set a staggered pindown for Smith. Instead of popping for three, Smith feels Goran Dragic in “lock and trail” position and curls to the basket.

Justise Winslow — guarding Love — should slide over to “tag” the cutter and prevent an easy pass for a layup. But Winslow is caught in no-man’s land between Smith and Love, clearly worried about leaving Love open for three.

The result? An open runway for Smith.


Both of these new sets are designed to take advantage of Kevin Love’s gravity from behind the arc. The Cavs’ spacing has been a problem for opposing centers, even when they are assigned to shadow Jae Crowder.

On the Horns set, opposing bigs are worried about straying too far from Love and allowing him to pop for three. Switch the action and the Cavs can easily reverse the ball for a Love post-up against a smaller wing player.

On the Post set, defenders have an immediate choice to make. Press up towards Love immediately when the ball is entered to James and risk a pass over the top for an easy bucket. Drop too far off and create a 3-on-2 advantage for the offense to exploit.

These difficult decisions are the direct result of playing Kevin Love at center and spacing the floor on offense. While the spacing lineups may not last forever as Tristan Thompson gears up to return, Lue’s ability to take advantage of the mismatches they create has been impressive.