LeBron James says the weary Cleveland Cavaliers could use more playing time for reserves who have seldom seen playoff action now that the NBA Finals are at a crucial stage.
The best-of-seven series against Golden State is level at 2-2 with game five on Sunday at Oakland, where the Cavaliers dealt the Warriors only their fourth home defeat of the season and playoffs in game two.
Cavaliers coach Dave Blatt has mainly used only two players off the bench, leaving five others to sit and watch as four-time NBA Most Valuable Player James and other starters wear down, fighting cramping and fatigue late in games.
“That’s the coach’s decision if he decides he wants to go deeper in the bench. We haven’t played many guys throughout this playoff run,” James said.
“I think it would help some of the guys that are playing some high minutes for sure, just give guys a couple minutes here, a couple minutes there. But I think the coaching staff will try to do what’s best to help us be physically and mentally prepared for Sunday.”
Shawn Marion, a 37-year-old forward, helped Dallas to a 2011 title by beating a James-led Miami team in the finals. Brendan Haywood is a 35-year-old center. And 35-year-old swingman Mike Miller has struggled with his shot much of the season.
But in short stints, they could offer a few minutes of vital rest without allowing Golden State to score at will.
For a Cavaliers team that lost All-Star forward Kevin Love to a separated left shoulder in the first playoff round and All-Star guard Kyrie Irving to a fractured left kneecap in the finals opener, any help could be crucial.
“We don’t have many options as far as lineups we can go to, but we can make adjustments,” James said. “That’s what you do throughout a series.
“We’ll get to the film and make the necessary adjustments coming into game five. But as far as lineup changes, we don’t have many different lineup changes we can actually go to.”
Golden State coach Steve Kerr knows he has superior depth, telling his team of smaller players to “weather the storm. They are going to wear down,” after falling behind early in game four, counting on the fatigue a faster pace would bring to Cleveland.
“You want to be out there, but you want to be effective while you’re out there too,” James said.
James was notably stuck on the bench at the 2004 Athens Olympics where he watched the US team settle for bronze, kept on the bench much of the time in favor of more veteran players, never able to know if he could have made a difference in USA Basketball’s most humbling episode.
– Blatt stays with winners –
What Blatt is doing is sticking with the rotation that turned around the team’s season after a 19-20 start. Yet with Love and Irving gone, the load is being carried by aching shoulders that have endured a playoff run of nearly two months.
Blatt says that when James gets his few minutes of rest each night, he must get more from those on the floor.
“When he is out, everyone else has got to step up and give a little bit more,” Blatt said. “We’re thinner now than we were, but that’s not an excuse. We’ve just all got to pick it up.”
Russian center Mozgov says it’s not his place to ask for more time for reserves.
“We play like seven guys but it’s all that we have and we can’t ask for something different,” he said. “It’s a lot of work to see how we can be better, both in energy and game plan for everyone.”
And James does not want to see reserves like J.R. Smith, who went 2-for-12 shooting and 0-for-8 in 3-pointers in game four, facing too much pressure.
“We all struggle at times. But you don’t give up on anyone,” James said. “We all got to this point together and you stick with them.”