INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- With the Cleveland Cavaliers bracing for the start of the second round without Kevin Love and J.R. Smith, coach David Blatt pointed to an unlikely trio the team could lean on in the Eastern Conference semifinals: Shawn Marion, Mike Miller and Kendrick Perkins.
"Guys that are on the bench that haven't been playing much, like Shawn and Mike Miller and Perk, are obviously going to have to be ready to play more minutes, and I know they will be because they're professionals and they have experience and they've been in winning situations," Blatt said after practice on Wednesday.
Blatt was right to point to their experience over the long haul of their careers -- they have four championship rings between them -- but their recent history hasn't been nearly as impressive. The three of them combined to play just seven minutes in the Cavs' four-game sweep of the Boston Celtics in the first round.
Will they be called upon to save the day? No. The principle parties to fill in for Love will be Tristan Thompson assuming some of his frontcourt minutes, along with James Jones getting more run at the stretch-4 and even LeBron James being asked to play more power forward. As for Smith, his understudy will undoubtedly be Iman Shumpert.
But Shumpert can't space the floor like Miller, and Jones can't battle inside like Perkins, and none of those replacements -- outside of James -- can do a little bit of both inside and outside like Marion can. And so they should all get their chance, especially for Games 1 and 2 while Smith is suspended.
While the trio has played sparingly ever since the Cavs went on their late-season surge relying primarily on an eight-man rotation, they have also all had their moments this season.
Miller had six points, seven rebounds and a crucial block on Giannis Antetokounmpo in an early-season win over Milwaukee. He suffered a concussion the very next game in New York but had himself a triumphant return from the head injury after a seven-game layoff, pumping in 21 points in a win over Brooklyn while shooting 7-for-8 from 3.
Before Marion closed out the Cavs' regular season in style, turning a late steal against Washington into a memorable dunk on one of the Wizards defenders that caused his Cleveland teammates to mob him on the court after the final buzzer sounded, he started 24 games. For the year, he had five games with two or more blocks, three games with two or more steals and 13 games with five or more rebounds -- all the little things the Cavs want from him in the next round.
Perkins was the last player to join the Cavs in February, and his numbers don't really reflect his impact on the team, but he'll be at Blatt's disposal to set hard screens, battle on the boards and use his six fouls.
Shortly after Game 4 in Boston, both James and Blatt referred to the team's mindset as simply "next man up."
And Cavs general manager David Griffin said that his team is comprised of "grown-ass men" in its locker room.
"From day one we knew that we'd face adversity," Jones said Wednesday. "You don't know in what form or fashion. For us, it just happened to be a devastating injury. But the games will still be played. The guys in here still have the same goal. We're another man down. A very key part has been subtracted. But I think we have enough and we know we have enough. So we'll just go out here and compete. And at the end of day, we'll give it our best, and hopefully our best will be enough."