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Blatt can sense that the Eastern Conference is not threatening enough, but teams in construction period, such as Cleveland, are more vulnerable because they find it difficult to cope with the absence of one of their stars. In view of the expected load, the decision to LeBron , even if the price is a loss serves the ultimate goal which is to bring all stars healthy into the playoffs.
The Cavs had almost forgotten what it’s like to lose two games in a row. As in the previous losses in a row, a major reason for this is the absence of one or more of the stars of the team. In a week full of important moments and statements, may be the most obvious statement was the decision to give LeBron James to rest against Indiana, despite the fact that Kyrie Irving was also not available. The statement was that with all due respect to maintaining momentum and location struggles, the number one goal is to get Cleveland healthy to playoffs.
Additional factor that contributes to Cavs confidence is the recent developments of their rivals for 2-5 spots. Toronto and Washington increasingly fading, Chicago getting injured (not just Derek Rose, Jimmy Butler will miss several weeks). David Blatt can definitely feel that apart from Atlanta, a team that no one knows what can be expected from them during playoffs, no team in the East is threatening enough to disturb the Cavs at their current form.
If there is one aspect that bothers Blatt and the rest of the coaching team, is the health of the star players. . Kyrie and Kevin Love both prone to injuries during their careers, LeBron is not the Iron Man he was in his 20s and his body is beginning to generate random adversity. Teams during the first year of the construction process usually find it difficult to cope with the absence of one of leading players. This is exactly the case in Cleveland. David Griffin has dedicated this year to build the base for the next 3-4 years. Small adjustments he will perform next season. Untill then, Cleveland will remain more vulnerable to absence of key players than other teams.
Is Griffin could have done more? At some point probably yes. Cleveland was left without a third point guard, making every game without Kyrie extremely complicated. Having a player such as Nate Robinson or Will Bynum would certainly have helped, games vs. Indiana and Houston are a great example, and it was possible to get one of them.
Currently, if Kyrie absent the burden falls on Matthew Dellavedova and Iman Shumpert. Both had to do much more than what they’re used to and what they are supposed to, especially against the Pacers where LeBron did not play as well. The immediate result was a high number of turnovers and bad shots. On top of that, both had hard time to do the things that they usually do well.
With all the affection to the energetic Australian player, I’m sure that Blatt would be happy to have a guard on the bench that has ability to create shots for himself, particularly against Indiana.
But in the end, this debate will probably not be very important later on. Cavs are focused on one thing only, the championship, and if one of the big three will be injured for the playoffs, their chances to win the title are slim, just like any other team.
The most important minutes last week were the first five minutes of the fourth quarter in Houston. The third quarter was a war and at the end Houston came on top. James Harden helped the Rockets get an eight-point advantage and they seemed to be just another small push from closing the game. LeBron was taken out and it was clear that Houston are going to tie the ends. However, Dellavedova, Shumpert, JR Smith, James Jones and Tristan Thompson, without a single representative of the Big Three, brought Cleveland back into the games. Not just a game, but a playoff type, broadcasted coast to coast. When LeBron and Harden returned, it was only a point to Houston.
After the game, LeBron said that his teammates placed him in position to win the game and he did not deliver the goods. I’m sure he was referring to those five minutes, that helped him to come back and continue his battle against Harden. The feeling of LeBron that he has a team that he can go to war with, even against athletic and talented rivals, is much more important than the manner in which he lost this particular battle.
It is worth remembering that Dellavedova, Shumpert and Tristan are all young players with no playoff experience. Their ability to rise in difficult situations, where more than usual is required of them, will be of tremendous value in the future.