CLEVELAND — J.R. Smith has gone from being informed he would be out of the rotation and could leave the team to the Cavaliers’ starting lineup.
Smith made his first start of the season at small forward and Cedi Osman moved to power forward Wednesday night as Cavs coach Larry Drew found himself without his top two power forwards — Kevin Love and Sam Dekker — against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Quicken Loans Arena.
Also sidelined was point guard George Hill, a late pregame scratch with right shoulder soreness. That cleared the way for rookie Collin Sexton to make the first start of his career.
Hill was coming off a season-high 22-point performance Monday against the Orlando Magic, along with four rebounds, a team-high six assists and four steals in 32 minutes. Hill scored 11 consecutive points in the fourth quarter en route to his third 20-point game as a Cav since he arrived in a Feb. 8 trade from the Sacramento Kings.
As for the issue at power forward, five-time All-Star Love had surgery Friday on his left big toe. At Orlando, Dekker sprained his left ankle, which will keep him out two to four weeks.
“We’ll see what it looks like. I think it gives us better matchups with Sam out if we do have to play just a tad smaller at the 4 spot; to me, it just makes more sense with Cedi,” Drew said of Osman, who is 6-foot-8 and 215 pounds. “Cedi’s got some size to him, but I don’t think if you look at him you think he’s a 4 man. But for matchup purposes, it actually works.”
Smith previously played in six of the Cavs’ 10 games, averaging 6.3 points. He and Osman both got some time at the 4 against the Magic after Dekker was hurt early in the third quarter.
Drew said guard David Nwaba, who had averaged 7.3 minutes in six games, would be called upon while Dekker is out, along with guard Kyle Korver.
“We’ll look and see what matchups would be with David in there versus when Kyle’s in there. David’s definitely going to have to be playing some minutes now,” Drew said. “I had a good talk with him, we spent a little bit more time taking him through plays this morning. Chances are he will be seeing some minutes until Sam gets back.”
Drew said when he calls on Nwaba, it will likely be as the backup 4 even though Nwaba stands 6-4, 219.
“Right now, I’m really kind of searching and seeing if any of these combinations could have an impact,” Drew said. “ I think right now with no Kevin Love, we have to look to see what will work and what won’t work.
“It’s really tough when you lose a guy like Kevin Love, somebody who is your go-to guy, somebody you can post up. At the same time, it’s a challenge. We embrace that challenge, I mean, me, my staff and the rest of our players. Let’s roll our sleeves up, let’s go out there and lay it on the line.”
Two bigs together?
Since he arrived at the trade deadline, Larry Nance Jr. has been hoping to play alongside center Tristan Thompson.
“It’s up to the coaching staff to do their rotations, but I would love to see it,” Nance said at shoot-around. “Now’s certainly the time to do that. That’s a little bit why I’m hoping to see me and Tristan on the court tonight, so I can show I can play some 4.”
Drew said a rotation with Nance and Thompson together might happen, although maybe not immediately. It happened almost immediately. Thompson and Nance were on the floor together briefly in the first quarter against the Thunder after Osman went to the locker room with lower back spasms and was announced as doubtful to return. Thompson was replaced by Ante Zizic after about four minutes playing with Nance.
“My biggest concern with that would be can we keep up in transition. If I had athletic bigs, and both Larry and Tristan are athletic, but the big question is can they sustain against a real fast team,” Drew said at shoot-around. “It could be a two- or three-minute spurt where we could be right there in a game, if we don’t do well with our transition defense, we could go to a double-digit deficit just like that.
“We actually went through some plays and I had them both in there together. If that is the case, Tristan would probably play the offensive 4 and Larry play the 5 spot. I think Tristan is a little bit more comfortable with the play sets. Chances are we’ll probably look at that combination, if not tonight’s game, somewhere in the future.”
Did he watch?
In pregame, Thunder coach Billy Donovan spoke of the Cavs like they were the team of old, not the one struggling without LeBron James.
“We’ll have to stretch the floor defensively because of their ability to make 3s. That’s one thing they’re very good at, as they have been for a number of years now,” Donovan said.
“Their lineup with four guards — and Osman is almost like a taller guard, as well — has the capability to shoot very well from the perimeter.”
Going into Wednesday’s play, the Cavs ranked 13th in the league in 3-point percentage (.355), but were last in 3-pointers made per game (8.1).
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.