After the Cavs wiped out a 21-point Bulls lead in the second half of Thursday’s 108-106 Game 3 loss, James suggested the team may want to play the athletic and undersized Bulls with a quicker and smaller lineup. He went a step further Friday as the Cavs began their assessment of what has been going wrong by openly pitching for J.J. Hickson to get playing time.
“I think personally I would love to see J.J. on the court,” James said. “I don’t know if he’s ready, but I think he will be.” Hickson has seen less than two minutes’ playing time in the series after he started 73 games in the regular season.
Hickson has been too important to just have sit on the bench. J.J. brings a level of athleticism that the other Cavalier big men just don’t have and he can help the Cavs get easy buckets inside. I love Varejao, Jamison and Shaq but they simply don’t play above the rim like J.J.
However, Mike Brown plans on doubling down with Shaq:
But while James is hoping to get floor time with Hickson, Brown is looking for more minutes for O’Neal.
“Is there any plan of going to J.J. for a few minutes? Not right now,” Brown said. “I’ve got to get Shaq on the floor a little bit more and other than that, that is my main goal right now with my bigs.”
Of course there’s no plan for J.J. Why would there be? He only started 73 games on a 61-win team (and had good games against the Magic, Lakers and Celtics).
Windy explains Coach Mike’s explanation:
“We’ll go small if we need to,” Brown said. “That is something we always have done in the past if we think it is effective.”
But the Cavs have been getting eaten up with the scoring in the paint — the Bulls lead that area by a stunning 94-70 count over the past two games — and Brown believes O’Neal can help clean that up at both ends.
Before O’Neal was hurt, he was a reason why the Cavs led the league in defending the paint, allowing fewer than 36 points a game. When O’Neal played well and got 24 effective minutes and three blocks in Game 1, the Bulls scored just 26 points inside. He also scored 12 points in the series opener, helping the Cavs to 42 points in the paint.
Since then those numbers have reversed, with O’Neal not playing as well or as much. Which is why Brown is focusing on O’Neal as the Cavs attempt to rediscover their size edge.
“I’ve got to get him more involved in the series,” Brown said. “He had some great looks that popped out but those will go down. He can be a big factor for us.”
I don’t necessarily disagree. The Cavs are going to need Shaq to get comfortable, if they want to win the title. After (an adrenaline fueled) Game 1, Shaq hasn’t been much of a factor. He missed some easy shots in Game 3, but I’m not really too suprised at the rust (it took him a bit to find his touch at the beginning of the season).
While getting Shaq up to speed is important, so is getting J.J. some minutes (unless Brown expects to sit Hickson throughout the entire post season). Hickson’s going to be needed at some point, right? If there’s ever a time to let Hickson sink or swim, it’s now, against these Bulls rather than in Boston or Los Angeles. (Also, Hickon shouldn’t be taking Shaq’s minutes, he should be eating into Z’s court time).