Reeling Cavs shake up lineup before facing Pacers
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CLEVELAND -- Coach Tyronn Lue relented and the Cleveland Cavaliers will trot out a new starting lineup Friday against the Indiana Pacers.
The Cavs are reeling, losing two straight and 11 of the last 15 games. They are the league's second-worst defensive team -- the worst in the past 15 games -- and have struggled tremendously to make virtually anything work with Isaiah Thomas on the court.
But Thomas isn't the change. Lue will start Tristan Thompson at center and slide Kevin Love back to power forward. It means Jae Crowder goes to the bench.
Lue has resisted making lineup and rotation changes while the Cavs are in a rut.
"Jae has been playing good the last few games and it has nothing to do with Jae," Lue said. "He's been great. He's all about the right things. He's all about the team.
"You hate to make these changes. Not saying it's permanent, but he's about the team. Went and talked to him this morning and he said, 'Whatever is best for the team. I'm all in.' It was a great talk with him."
Crowder has underperformed this season -- his first with the Cavs. Traded by Boston along with Thomas, Ante Zizic and two draft picks for Kyrie Irving, Crowder's scoring, shooting, rebounding and defensive numbers are all down from a year ago. And his defensive rating of 112 is by far the worst of his career.
From a broader perspective, the Cavs' previous starting lineup of Thomas, Crowder, Love, LeBron James and J.R. Smith was outscored by an average of 22.8 points per 100 possessions in eight games.
Obviously, especially for a three-time Eastern Conference champion with dreams of a fourth straight Finals, playing that way is unacceptable.
"I just think starting Tristan helps out IT in the pick-and-roll, it helps Kevin because they're putting Kevin and IT in a lot of pick-and-rolls," Lue said. "I think with Tristan out there guarding the 5 we won't have to blitz as much. We can do a better job of doing our drops and play the pick-and-roll two-on-two.
"I think it helps with IT as far as setting screens, a guy who can roll so he can mix it up for IT and help get his shot off more. Just think that adjustment will help us. I think T-Top defensively will help us out a lot too."
The Pacers have won seven of their last 10 overall and are looking for a four-game sweep of the Cavs. Indiana beat Cleveland 97-95 on Jan. 12 after falling behind by 22.
Indiana's Myles Turner has been out since Jan. 8 with an elbow injury. He practiced Thursday and is listed as questionable for the game against the Cavs.
Victor Oladipo, the Pacers' lone All-Star, is averaging 24.1 points per game. He tied a season high with nine assists to go with 21 points in the Pacers' win Wednesday over Phoenix.
"He and I talk about the way he plays the game, and I think he plays the game the right way," Pacers coach Nate McMillan said, according to The Indianapolis Star. "When teams are committing two to him, he has to be a willing passer, and I thought (Wednesday night) he did that. That's going to open up some things for him later against other teams.
"We constantly talk to our guys about playing the game the right way, respect the game, and I thought Vic did that."
Updated January 25, 2018