Cavaliers' small-ball look provides actual, tangible fodder to reflect on

CLEVELAND -- This week leading up to the Cleveland Cavaliers' 108-83 victory over the Washington Wizards on Friday, people spent a whole lot of time talking about a whole lot of things that have absolutely no bearing on the Cavs' shot at postseason success come April.

So much, in fact, that it's best to break out a list to count down the irrelevant storylines that were covered.

  • That Kyrie Irving wants out of Cleveland: Not only was this nonsense considering the trading deadline has already passed, but according to multiple league sources, back when David Blatt was fired and general manager David Griffin addressed the team about the coaching change, the GM told them that anyone who did not want to be about getting the team pointed in the right direction was welcome to come into his office and request a trade. No questions asked. He would help facilitate a move. Obviously, based on the fact that Irving is still donning wine and gold, whatever discontent he has felt this season never reached the point of demanding to be dealt.

  • That LeBron James sent out some cryptic tweets: Not only did James go on the record to tell everyone that the tweets had nothing to do with any of his Cavs teammates, but even if they had -- like his infamous "FIT-OUT/FIT-IN" tweet last season about Kevin Love -- what real effect would it have on the team? Cleveland went 20-6 in the next 26 games after that Love tweet. Let's be real.

  • That James traveled to Miami during the team's two off days and worked out with, gasp, Dwyane Wade: Rather than focus on James sharing a gym with a potential playoff opponent while conveniently forgetting the context that this particular player is also a lifelong friend, vacation buddy and former teammate, how about mentioning the benefit of (A) manufacturing an in-season break for the most important player in your organization who was the only player who had his All-Star break cut short by actually representing the franchise in Toronto, and (B) the fact that when given free time, your best player chooses to spend it in a gym getting his body right for the stretch run of the season?

  • That the Cavs' lineup is lacking an "enforcer": Let's tell it like it is. If the Cavs' players miss Kendrick Perkins for all the intangibles he brought as a respected veteran with championship experience and see Sasha Kaun, who has barely registered a stat this season, as his unworthy replacement, that's one thing. But to say that Cleveland and its $107 million roster has guys who don't think they have enough to win it all because there is no one who fits the antiquated "enforcer" role on the roster is laughable.

Now for something that actually matters to the Cavs' chances of playoff glory: Tyronn Lue trotted out a new small-ball lineup that featured Irving and J.R. Smith in the backcourt, Iman Shumpert at the 3, James at the 4 and Timofey Mozgov at the 5 (keeping the spot warm for Love, who sat out Friday to rest but will eventually assume the center spot on a regular basis) and Cleveland absolutely obliterated Washington, leading by 30 at one point.

"I thought it was great for us," Lue said. "I thought the guys bought into playing that way, that style of basketball."

The buy-in asks more of some than it does of others. It starts with James, perhaps the greatest small forward ever, giving up that position. James has the requisite build to play power forward, of course, but it generally means he is going to experience more contact. That takes its toll on a guy in his 13th season and is the reason why in the past James always preferred to hold off on the switch until the postseason, when the games really matter.

It also takes the ball out of his hands more than he's accustomed to, as he becomes the screener when the Cavs run 1-4 pick-and-rolls with him and Irving. But it doesn't mean he has to sacrifice his playmaking ability. When James rolls, receives the pass from Irving and sees the defense collapse on him in the center of the court, he'll often have an easy kick-out opportunity for a 3-pointer, or can even find the other big slipping free on the baseline near the basket as he did on one such play with Mozgov on Friday.

"By him setting picks and also rolling to the basket, now guys are committing, he's able to make the pass," Lue said. "I think that's great for him."

James backed the move wholeheartedly.

"I don't see a downfall to it," he said. "If you're in shape, you should be fine with it. If we are out there turning the ball over and not executing and not getting to our spots, then that would be a downfall. But tonight we defended."

That of course, is the other benefit. With James, Shumpert and Smith all on the floor at the same time, Cleveland has a potent defensive group.

"It's just hard if you're on the offensive side of that," Shumpert said. "If you set a ball screen, we can easily switch it. If you set a back screen, we can switch it. The intensity stays up the whole time. There's no real way to get a mismatch. I think that's the advantage of it."

Besides James, the other major buy-in has to come from the bigs in Love, Mozgov, Tristan Thompson and the newly acquired Channing Frye. Lue is going to play only two centers during the course of a game, so that means two guys out of that group will have to sit and be OK with it.

It also means -- and this might be the biggest question of the night -- that Love will have to prove he can actually play the 5 for a sustainable amount of time. He has played it in spots this season, notably in a home win against Portland earlier in the season, and recently in late-game situations against Toronto and Indiana. But can he do it on a regular basis? And with less than six weeks left of the regular season, is there enough time left to master this new look to the point where the Cavs will consider it an asset they can lean on in the playoffs?

"It's definitely the right time," James said. "We have 20, 22 games left, or maybe less or maybe more, but we want to get better. And we did that tonight."

That's something worth talking about.