INDEPENDENCE, Ohio – More than any of the other 15 teams in the first round of the NBA’s postseason tournament, the Cleveland Cavaliers will be watched closely not just for whether they win or lose each game but for how they happen to do it.
Style points – more specifically, judgments of how LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving mesh their games and share the load – likely will be assessed, loaded with all sorts of portent for the presumed rounds to come.
At a certain level, it’s understandable. Cleveland’s “Big 3” has ebbed and flowed in its performances over two seasons together, leaving unanswered questions about whether one basketball or one system is enough to serve James’, Love’s and Irving’s individual talents. Also, the blueprint turned black-and-blueprint last spring when both Love (shoulder injury in Game 4 of the opening round) and Irving (knee in Game 1 of the Finals) got hurt, leaving the plan to go largely untested.
So with the alleged inherent mismatch of their No. 1 vs. No. 8 clash with underdog Detroit and status as the East’s favorites overall, the Cavaliers might find themselves getting poked and prodded, their pulses taken on the fly, to gauge their fitness to turn a six-game Finals loss into something more glittery this time.
Most teams start the playoffs just hoping to count to 16 (victories). People may expect the Cavaliers to unlock some secret formula, gel into a super-team and chase down their potential while they’re stalking the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
“That’s on us to keep it [simple],” Love said after practice Saturday at the Cleveland Clinics facility. “I know that, as a human being, you want to get out ahead of yourself and know what’s next. But for us, we can’t do that. When we have that ‘win or die,’ ‘win or go home’ mentality and take it game by game, we’re so much better. I know in a lot of ways that’s a cliché, but that’s how we’re looking at it and I don’t think any of these guys will tell you different.”
And if Love gets neglected over in the corner waiting for some catch-and-shoot 3-pointers or if James takes over primary ball handling duties from Irving for a night?
“We don’t necessarily have time to hold our heads on who’s getting the balls, who’s not getting the ball,” Irving said. “It’s really just about winning and doing whatever it takes. And everyone has to understand that. It’s going to be different roles every single night. Teams are going to be making adjustments. So we just have to adjust accordingly, make decisions and continue to play our game. That’s it.”
As far as Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue is concerned, there’s only one thing he wants to see from his team besides victories in the best-of-seven series with the Pistons.
“With this team, I think you have to be physical,” Lue said. “Reggie Jackson is a big point guard, he attacks a lot. [Center Andre] Drummond‘s very physical, the best offensive rebounder in the league.[Marcus] Morris and Tobias [Harris] at the 3-4 positions, they’re very physical. The biggest thing for me is, I want our team to come out and be physical on both ends.”