INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — When the Cleveland Cavaliers open up the NBA playoffs with Game 1 of their first-round series with the Indiana Pacers on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC), the Cavs will play their first game with a completely healthy team since overhauling their roster at the trade deadline.
And with everyone available for the first time, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue vows to go deep into his bench during the postseason.
“You usually go nine,” Lue said, describing a typical playoff rotation. “I think we’ve been nine in the past, but I think it’s going to be important to go 10 for us.”
Lue, who played only eight players more than 15 minutes per game on average in the Cavs’ 2017 postseason run, will open up the playoffs with planned minutes for JR Smith, Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson and Jose Calderon off the bench, and may add either Rodney Hood or Kyle Korver in that bench group.
Lue would not reveal who would start at shooting guard between Hood and Korver — but said that Hood is “ready to go” after an Achilles injury caused him to miss the final two games of the regular season, while Korver was merely “getting better” from the sore right foot that’s bothered him for weeks. The rest of the Cavs’ starters will be made up of LeBron James, Kevin Love, Jeff Green and George Hill.
Calderon, 36, proved indispensable this season as the Cavs went 23-9 in his stint as one of seven starting point guards used during what was a topsy-turvy year.
Lue plans to pair him with Clarkson, whom like Nance, has no previous playoff experience.
“I like Clarkson being on the floor with a point guard, so that makes us play 10,” Lue said. “We just want to make sure that we have a point guard on the floor with him, knowing that Cory Joseph picks up full court and tries to disrupt the point guard on the opposing team. So, it’s very important that we try to keep a point guard on the floor with him at all times.”
The Pacers’ starting guards are more of a concern to Lue than Joseph, however. Victor Oladipo, who was an All-Star this season and averaged 25 points on 47.2 percent shooting from 3-point territory as the Pacers went 3-1 against the Cavs this season, is joined by Darren Collison, who led the entire league in 3-point percentage shooting with a 46.8 percent clip for the season.
“He’s hurt us this year,” Lue said of Collison. “He’s been a tough guy for us to cover.”
And defense is the Cavs’ biggest focal point heading into the postseason after ranking 29th in defensive efficiency — allowing 109.5 points per 100 possessions — during the regular season.
“I think the biggest thing for us defensively is we just got to talk really early, loud and continuous — ELC — and we got to call our coverages out early and continuous and we all got to be on the same page,” Lue said.
Lue is also urging the Cavs’ less experienced players to make their mark on the defensive end. That includes Hood, who played in his first playoffs last spring for the Utah Jazz and saw his numbers take a significant decline from the regular season.
“The most important thing I think is competing and playing hard,” Lue said. “I think you get deflections, get a steal, get an easy basket. The easiest way to play your first time in the playoffs is just playing hard. I think the fans appreciate that, guys on the floor, taking charges, that’s what gets you motivated. That’s what gets the crowd motivated and it helps you ease into the game better.”
Lue and assistant coach Mike Longabardi, the team’s unofficial defensive coordinator, began preparing defensive schemes for the Pacers series several days before the regular season ended, anticipating such a matchup. With the ability to lock in on one opponent for weeks at a time, Lue becomes far more hands on with his team’s plans during the postseason.
“That’s what we thrive on doing here,” Lue said. “Trying to take away what a team does best and try to make them do something different that they’re not used to doing. So it’s not like we were doing something special or so creative or we got some brand new defense.”
Hill, who broke out in a smile when considering the prospect of entering the playoffs with James on his team after James and the Miami Heat eliminated him from the postseason three straight years when he played for the Pacers, said the Cavs’ star has already spoken to the group about the task at hand.
“LeBron, he says like it is,” Hill shared. “He says, ‘Regular season is over with, we’ve got to continue to get better as a team, take these next couple days to clear your mind, focus on this Pacers team that can put up points and who has beaten us so far a lot this year.’ He said, ‘We’ve got to put our thinking caps on and get ready to play some good postseason basketball.'”