Cavaliers facing tough decisions in front court rotation

Love and Zizic adding to 'a nice problem to have'

Alex Hooper
March 20, 2018 - 12:07 am

USA Today Images


CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – The injury bug has been a major problem for the Cleveland Cavaliers this season, among plenty others. With the injury bug, and the way that it has ravaged a roster competing for a title, more problems emerge when players heal.

The current third-seed in the Eastern Conference just got their second All-Star, Kevin Love, back on Monday night, yet still are without four players. Two of those players were seeing time at center, where Love has been playing, and where the coaching staff seems to think he is most effective.

In the absence of Tristan Thompson and Larry Nance, Jr., another contender for the pivot has emerged in Ante Zizic, the young big acquired in the Kyrie Irving trade.

When Nance and Thompson do return, there will not be enough minutes for everyone to go around, let alone usage and spacing issues.

Nance seemed to have taken over the starting center position with his strong, two-way play, but will Love be the preference at center?

When the time comes to make such a call, interim head coach Larry Drew said it will still be up to Tyronn Lue, who is absent dealing with health issues.

Technically, the two are vastly different, Love’s purpose at the five being to space the floor by creating a perimeter threat, while Nance is a pick-and-roll weapon who defends and rebounds well. There will be room for both, but just how much remains to be seen with just 12 games remaining in the regular season.

Love added an obvious dimension to the Cavaliers in his first game in seven weeks, especially offensively, scoring 18 points in just under 25 minutes of play. He created an extra possession on a strong offensive rebound three minutes into the game, blocked 6-foot-11 John Henson less than a minute late, then draining a 3-pointer 90 seconds later.

“I thought he was pretty active defensively,” Drew said post-game. “We try to put a lot of emphasis on the defense, but everybody knows when he’s out on the floor, he’s capable of scoring baskets whether he’s inside or out.”

Love, who had not played 5-on-5 against NBA players since his last game on January 30th, said he felt rusty in terms of decision making, but his addition to the team was clear.

Players and fans of the Cavaliers alike had been anticipating the return of Love, knowing full-well what would come with it. What they may not have known was just how ready Zizic was to contribute.

The 21-year-old rookie scored 13 points and grabbed 6 rebounds in 17 minutes Monday, the fourth time he scored double-digit points in his past five games.

Looking like a throw-in from the Irving trade in his early, uncomfortable games on the big stage, Zizic looked confident Monday. After a tip-in late in the first quarter, the 6-11 center got to the free throw line for two points to start the second before a put-back on the next Cavs possession, and a post-up bucket the trip after that.

After trotting out 6-foot-9 Jeff Green at center for a handful of games, the addition of Love and emergence of Zizic turned the tables. Not far removed from a game where the Cavs were outrebounded 50-32 by the Portland Trail Blazers, they rode a 42-32 advantage on the glass over a Bucks team that built its roster around length.

Drew said that Zizic has proven he ‘deserves to be on the floor,’ and called the team’s depth at center ‘a nice problem to have.’ LeBron James sees it as a young player taking what he has been given.

“I think this league is all about opportunity, and all the guys getting injured has given him an opportunity to play,” James said. “He’s played some really good ball for us, his finishing around the rim, getting us extra possessions, blocking shots is very key for our ball club.”