CAVS' winning formula

James impresses at power forward, while Wizards lose after a 4-game winning run

Washington's Otto Porter Jr and Cleveland's LeBron James go for a loose ball during the third quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. The Cavaliers defeated the Wizards 108-83.
Washington's Otto Porter Jr and Cleveland's LeBron James go for a loose ball during the third quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. The Cavaliers defeated the Wizards 108-83.PHOTO: REUTERS

CLEVELAND • The Cleveland Cavaliers appear to have found a way to beat the high-flying Golden State Warriors - if they happen to meet in the National Basketball Association Finals in June.

On Friday, their coach Tyronn Lue shifted LeBron James to power forward and inserted Iman Shumpert on the wing, and the Cavaliers produced a 108-83 win over the Washington Wizards.

Going small is how the team ran the speedy Wizards out of the Quicken Loans Arena.

And they showed how they might best be able to tackle the Warriors in a Finals match-up.

Timofey Mozgov started instead of Kevin Love, but that is not significant since Love was given a rest and is expected to be back for this morning's (Singapore time) game against the Boston Celtics.

"This is something that our coaching staff have been talking about going forward, since the beginning of the season. Just playing small and being faster," Lue said.

James finished with 19 points, seven assists and tied a season high with 13 rebounds in 31 minutes. He rested the entire fourth quarter.

Playing the Cavaliers' superstar in that position is not new. The team's former coach David Blatt did it in the play-offs for long stretches last season and James was effective in that role during his four seasons at the Miami Heat.

On Friday, James guarded Markief Morris in the post and continued to handle the ball when the Cavaliers had it. Shumpert took on John Wall and J.R. Smith stayed with Bradley Beal, allowing Kyrie Irving to hide on the Wizards' wing, Otto Porter Jr.

The same strategy could possibly be employed effectively against the Warriors - Stephen Curry (Shumpert), Klay Thompson (Smith) and Draymond Green (James).

Additionally, pushing James forward is likely to create more space for a smaller line-up of shooters, particularly with Irving, Love and Smith on the wings.

"Last year, we were able to post him a lot in the play-offs and we were able to create double teams and create mismatches and our guys got open shots," Lue said. "Going forward, we'll start looking at that and just getting a feel for how we're going to play, especially if we're going to play him at the four."

The coach made it clear the Cavaliers want to use this line-up with Love in it.

He said: "Yes, definitely. LeBron at the four, Kevin at the five, and we have speed on the floor with the four guards. It's something that we're looking to do."

On Friday, Irving added 21 points and eight assists as the Cavaliers snapped the Wizards' four-game winning streak and avenged a loss in Washington last Sunday.

They led by 17 at half-time and by as many as 30 in the fourth quarter, giving Lue the luxury of resting James for the final period.

The emphatic win came after James was criticised in some quarters for travelling to Miami to train with former Heat team-mate Dwyane Wade.

A couple of cryptic tweets from James had Cavaliers-watchers wondering if there was trouble brewing in the locker room, but on the court all was well.

"To be able to come out and play like we did tonight - it's a step in the right direction," James said.

For the Wizards, Wall scored 17 points with eight rebounds and seven assists.

Morris had 13 points and five assists, but the Wizards committed 16 turnovers and remained outside the play-off position in 10th place in the Eastern Conference.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 06, 2016, with the headline 'CAVS' WINNING FORMULA'. Print Edition | Subscribe