CLEVELAND -- The Cavaliers acquired a young, versatile big man in Larry Nance Jr. at the trade deadline, and center Tristan Thompson is the healthiest he has been all season, but the Cavs will continue to start Jeff Green in the front court when the playoffs begin this month, according to head coach Tyronn Lue.
"I just like his versatility, I think defensive wise we can put him on [DeMar] DeRozan, you can put him on John Wall, Bradley Beal. You can put him on [Victor] Oladipo," Lue said before the Cavs hosted the Washington Wizards on Thursday. "I just like that we can switch a lot of 1 through 4 stuff and it gives us another ball handler on the floor too, so I just think it's the right thing for us to start."
Green, 31, signed with Cleveland on a veteran's minimum contract in the offseason. His relationship with Lue, dating to their time with the Boston Celtics together, was a major determining factor. However Lue said this lineup decision wasn't a matter of playing favorites.
"I think with LeBron [James], Kevin [Love] said he likes playing that 5 now, and it gives us more spacing," Lue said. "I think also just being versatile. Just because you start a game a certain way doesn't mean you're going to finish it that way. And we have the luxury of having a lot of guys who can play and whoever's playing well will pretty much finish the game. So, we beat Boston, who's second in the East, with Jeff starting at the 4. We beat Toronto twice with him starting at the 4, so, it's good for us right now and we'll just see what happens."
Coming into the Wizards game, the Cavs were 7-3 this season with Green in the starting lineup -- he has played all three front-court positions with the starters. Though Green's season averages of 10.5 points on 46.5 percent shooting overall, 29.1 percent from 3, 3.2 rebounds and 1.3 assists are modest, the analytics show he has a major impact when paired with James. As the Action Network recently pointed out, James has a net rating of plus 6.9 in 1,034 minutes with Green on the court this season and a net rating of minus 2.2 in 1,862 minutes with Green off the court.
Lue said that having both Nance and Thompson on the bench does not mean that one of them will fall out of his playoff rotation.
"I really don't see Larry as a traditional center, but I think he can play the center," Lue said. "I think you can play those guys together, Larry at the 4 ... Tristan at the 5. But it gives you some versatility. We can go big, we can go small. We can play Bron at the 5, Jeff at the 4, so we've got a lot of different versatility, so just having those two guys off the bench is going to be interesting."
Cleveland came into Thursday a half-game up on the Philadelphia 76ers for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. Cleveland plays in Philadelphia on the second night of a back-to-back Friday in a game that has huge implications on playoff seeding. However, with starting point guard George Hill out Thursday because of an ankle injury and backup point guard Jose Calderon out because of a hamstring pull, Lue -- back for the first time in nine games after his own health-related reasons -- showed little interest in putting anyone at risk of further injury to chase a win.
"It's important for us to finish healthy," Lue said. "That's my most important thought. Our thought process the last four years is making sure that we're healthy. I think when guys are healthy, you see that we've won the last nine of 10 and playing pretty well. You know, you want to win these games and finish as high as you can, but the most important thing for us is finishing healthy."