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J.R. Smith on LeBron James not guarding opponent's best player: 'It really helps us'

LeBron James, JR Smith
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Cleveland Cavaliers have opened up their 2017 Playoff run against division rival Indiana Pacers, for what seemed like a mouthwatering matchup at the small forward position.

Everyone was set for LeBron James and Paul George to square up on both ends of the floor, until Coach Tyronn Lue decided to ruin everyone’s fun. Right out of the blocks in Game 1, J.R. Smith landed the job of guarding George, and the same continued at the tip off of Game 2.

When Smith went down with an injury it seemed inevitable that James would guard George, but it was Iman Shumpert, rather than James, that received the duties. If you ask J.R. Smith, he believes that it makes the Cavaliers a better team.

“It really helps us,” Smith told CBS. “When you look at him like an Ed Reed type of guy, he does a great job with that. He gets interceptions on the weak sides, he gets blocks.”

Smith would also make it clear that just because James is guarding off the ball, he still remains one of the league’s elite defenders.

“Obviously, he’s one of the better – I think him, Kawhi and probably Tony Allen are the best on-ball defenders in the league. His athletic ability, how smart he is on the defensive end, his talent alone on the weak-side is only going to increase our chances.”

Smith’s official game status is still unknown, but Coach Lue revealed that Iman Shumpert’s play in Game 2 has earned him some floor time in the near future.

“He did play great for us, and with JR going down, it’s been our mentality of ‘next man up,’” Lue said. “Shump has been playing all year, it was just one game where he didn’t play. In a big game like the other night, he was ready to play, ready to go, in a big playoff game. We know we can count on Shump to be ready, and know he can give us a lift.”

The series continues in Indianapolis on Thursday night.

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