The Cleveland Cavaliers Have a Secret Weapon for Playoffs, but Will They Use It?

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterApril 7, 2017

CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 19: Kyle Korver #26 of the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James #23 celebrate after scoring during the second half against the Phoenix Suns at Quicken Loans Arena on January 19, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Suns 118-103. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jason Miller/Getty Images

CLEVELAND — For weeks, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been working on their "playoff defense" in practices, one that will presumably replace the NBA's 22nd-ranked regular-season version.

"We've got to hold back," head coach Tyronn Lue said after a 127-115 thrashing home loss to the Washington Wizards in late March.

"We can't show our hand early because ... these are some good teams, and we don't want them to be able to come into a series and be able to adjust to what we do. We just have to be able to play our normal defense until we get there, and then we will see what happens."

Lue's mysterious postseason plans were only magnified when talking about Cleveland's 26th-ranked rebounding since the All-Star break.

"I think the rebounding hurt us," Lue said. "But it will be different once some other things happen. ... But we have something to fix that. Just not right now."

When asked what that "something" was, Lue dryly replied, "I forget" and ended his presser.

The Cavs' newest Da Vinci Code is certainly a tantalizing one.

With defense and rebounding a major concern heading into the playoffs, what secret weapons could Lue be referring to? Although a Tim Duncan coming-out-of-retirement party would be amazing, it appears a more collective, and unusual, method may be up Lue's sleeve.

The Cavaliers signed ex-Miami Heat forward Derrick Williams in early February, despite possessing glaring needs at backup point guard and center at the time.

Apparently, they had a plan.

Almost immediately, Williams was plugged into a newly formed 6'7"-and-over lineup that began producing remarkable results. Along with Richard Jefferson (6'7"), Kyle Korver (6'7"), LeBron James (6'8") and Channing Frye (6'11"), Cleveland began tearing apart opponents with its new supersized five.

"It's a fantastic lineup," James said following its initial use during a 125-109 win over the Denver Nuggets on Feb. 11, via "We've got guys who can run, who can rebound and shoot. We got stops. Shared the ball. It's something that coach has got in his back pocket if he wants to use it."

James handles the ball in these lineups, providing a nearly impossible cover for traditional point guards to handle. Korver (49.2 percent three-point shooter since trade to Cavs) and Frye (40.7 percent) space the floor, while Williams and Jefferson serve as slashers for James to find with one of his bullet passes.

In an NBA that's continually getting smaller, Cleveland appeared to be reversing the trend. All five are built to defend multiple positions, and the lineup is registering a 91.8 defensive rating, 16 points lower than the Cavs' season mark.

"We're able to switch a lot of stuff on defense 1 through 4 because they're all pretty much the same size," Lue said, via Chris Fedor of "Defensively, we get a little better."

Even with Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson watching, this unit has served as the Cavaliers' most effective in it's small sample size. In their 39 glorious minutes together, this new death lineup has registered a net rating of plus-35.

A nightmare to guard in transition, James gets a chance to snap incredible passes like this with that lineup:


As for Lue's plan to fix the rebounding? This could be it.

The big death lineup, or BDL, is pulling down 57.1 percent of all available boards. For comparison, the Denver Nuggets lead the NBA with a 53.3 percent mark this season. Cleveland's shooting skyrockets to 66.7 percent from the field and 44.0 percent from deep, with its assists increasing by 11.8 per 100 possessions.

In short, this is a James-led group that can shoot, rebound, defend and has no problems moving the ball.

So, why have they stopped using it?

Despite the lineup helping fuel an NBA-best 9-2 record in February, the Cavaliers went away from their BDL.

Not all of that is Lue's fault, of course. Korver's battle with a sore left foot has caused him to miss nine of the team's past 14 games. The addition of Deron Williams as a reliable backup point guard has ushered in smaller lineup combinations as well.

As for Derrick Williams, he's all but fallen out of the rotation, a strange turn of events for a player who was bringing so much athleticism and versatility to the second unit. It was his addition that helped forge the lineup in the first place, and he believes the Cavs may ultimately use it again this postseason.

"It was really just a coaching decision," Derrick Williams told Bleacher Report when asked why the BDL wasn't being used anymore. "I don’t necessarily think we’re not going to go back to it."

As teams get ready to set their playoff rotations, the league hasn't forgotten about Cleveland's old tricks.

As one Eastern Conference scout told B/R:

"I like that lineup. I love the ability for same-side switches. Before you get to the West, it will work in the East. If they face Golden State, that lineup may be much more effective because [Kevin] Durant is their tallest player when they play he and Draymond [Green] in the frontcourt and then go small at the 1, 2 and 3. I think Cleveland will end up with that lineup a lot."

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks to pass against Klay Thompson #11 of the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

If going big is indeed the Cavaliers' secret fix, playoff foes may have a difficult time adjusting to their versatility.

"I guess it’s one of those hidden gems where other teams may not be able to match up so quickly," Derrick Williams said.

"With the size we have on our team, we have a lot of guys that can play two or three positions; it makes the game easier when you can put guys who normally play the 2, put them at the 4 or have a guy that plays the 1 and put him at the 3. We have a lot of guys who can play a lot of different roles, and that’s the best thing about it."

CLEVELAND, OH - FEBRUARY 11: Derrick Williams #3 celebrates with LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the first half against the Denver Nuggets at Quicken Loans Arena on February 11, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly ackn
Jason Miller/Getty Images

As for any other secret elixir that Lue can concoct—don't hold your breath.

"It’s not like they’re going to have a magic scheme when the playoffs start," the scout said. "They’re going to be the same team, just with a much better effort. [Lue's] different scheme should be getting back on defense, close out to your man, tighten up on pick-and-rolls. It’s not a different scheme—that’s what they’re going to do. They’re going to run much harder in transition because it’s the playoffs. They’re going to rotate and close out much better. Right now their problem is a lack of focus. That’s it."

Big, athletic lineups may be the Cavaliers' secret plan, but it's an improved effort and focus that will really propel them to a third straight Finals appearance.


Stats via Basketball Reference and and are accurate through April 6.

Greg Swartz is the Cleveland Cavaliers Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @CavsGregBR.


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