Following Thursday night’s loss, the Cavs have had a few days to reset their gameplan before today’s Game 4 against the Bulls. One of the biggest issues that has arisen from the Cavs’ perceived lackluster performance thus far is the question of team rotations. In game 3 the Cavs played 10 players – a number much higher than many typical playoff rotations.
The five Cavaliers with the most minutes logged in Game Four were James (44), Mo Williams (40), Antawn Jamison (37), Delonte West (30), and Anthony Parker (28). Jamario Moon saw 14 minutes off the bench (much to the delight of many commenters here), and Anderson Varejao played 20 minutes.
As Brian Windhorst pointed out, the Cavs played small for much of Game 3, putting LeBron James at the 4 spot and getting Jamario Moon on the court at the 3. In doing so, Brown limited the minutes for veteran bigs O’Neal (20 minutes) and Zydrunas Ilguaskas (5 minutes).
Perhaps drawing the most ire from many fans has been the lack of playing time for forward JJ Hickson. The second-year Cavalier has shown significant but inconsistent improvement over the course of the year. So far in this series he has been used sparingly at the end of quarters to spell other Cavalier bigs and save their fouls. The difficulties in guarding Bulls forward/center Joakim Noah have some clamoring for Hickson (he can’t be any worse, right?).
Queue LeBron James:
“I think personally I would love to see J.J. on the court. I don’t know if he’s ready, but I think he will be.”
It’s not often that James publicly advocates for a change of the team’s play. James also was critical of center Shaquille O’Neal, saying that he needs to pick up his game.
When asked about the rotations, and Hickson’s minutes, Coach Mike Brown said the following:
“Is there any plan of going to J.J. for a few minutes? Not right now, I’ve got to get Shaq on the floor a little bit more and other than that, that is my main goal right now with my bigs.”
That feeling? Oh, that was just the collective braintrust of the Cavalier fanbase going BOOM-BOOM. Going forward, it’s not likely that Cavs fans will see the rotations that they clamor for (then again, it’s not like Cleveland fans are overtly panicky or anything). Brown is not one to change up his rotations freely. Some might even say that he makes Jim Tressel overly reactionary. That being said, it will be interesting to see how the coach responds to fan ire and pressure from his superstar in Game 4 and beyond.
More minutes for Hickson would get him real, actual playoff experience – something that could, you know, actually be useful going forward. Hickson’s progress this year has been a great thing to watch. Rewarding that with some minutes now wouldn’t be the worst thing Brown could do. Hickson did start plenty of games this season. And really, there is validity to the argument that Hickson can’t possibly play more poorly than Shaq the past few games. His athleticism would serve the Cavs well on defense (yea, yea – I know. Hickson isn’t a great defender. But he could at least MOVE on defense, which would help), and we all know that he’s good at catching alley-oop passes and converting dunks (something Shaq has struggled mightily with in these playoffs).
So it’s pretty apparent that there are certainly changes that could be made that would help the team in this series and likely going forward into round 2 (assuming they make it through). Then again, if the Cavs weren’t looking listless in this series we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.
Terry Pluto noted this in his column today, saying:
While some fans want to concentrate on playing J.J. Hickson — and he could receive some minutes in a smaller lineup — the real story is lack of playoff focus and defensive toughness.
If the Cavs play hard, none of this is an issue.