HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Cleveland Cavaliers’ longest winning streak of the season – eight games from Dec. 28 to Jan. 12 – coincided with a lineup change, Tristan Thompson replacing Timofey Mozgov at center.
The winning streak came to an end in San Antonio last Thursday and Thompson went back the bench for the last three games. Matchups had something to do with it. The Cavs’ last three games have been against big centers (Dwight Howard, Andrew Bogut and Brook Lopez), and Cavs coach David Blatt acknowledged that size is the reason Mozgov has started those three games.
So Thompson could be back in the starting lineup again soon. It probably won’t happen on Thursday, when the Cavs host DeAndre Jordan and the Los Angeles Clippers (8 p.m. ET, TNT), but the Cavs’ numbers suggest that Thompson is the better choice.
The Cavs have played almost 1,000 minutes with LeBron James and Kevin Love at the forward positions, and about an equal number with Mozgov and Thompson at center. And Cleveland has been much better, especially offensively with Thompson at the five.
Those minutes account for 71 percent of James’ total minutes. He’s also played 78 minutes with Thompson at the four and either Mozgov or Anderson Varejao at the five. He’s played only 8.1 minutes per game of small ball this season.
Interestingly, the Cavs’ numbers have been similar whether James is playing with one big or two.
Thompson has been the center for most (192) of those one-big minutes, but the Cavs are a minus-26 with a James/Thompson frontline (in part because they’ve used it for more defensive than offensive possessions). They’ve been better (plus-63 in 86 minutes) with a James/Love frontline and three guards/wings, a configuration they could go to more often now that they have their full complement of guards available.
Lineups didn’t matter when the Cavs got smoked by the Warriors on Monday, but Blatt will continue to have interesting choices from game to game and minute to minute.