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Larry Sanders' chance to join the championship chase has come

It seems as though there is no end to irony for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Just one day after Coach Tyronn Lue jinxed the media with hopes of returning to a full 15-man roster, iron-man Tristan Thompson’s thumb suffered an injury. While the MRI results were negative and force Thompson to only miss two games, it does end the NBA’s longest active streak of consecutive games played at 477. Just like that, the Cavs will attempt to pry top seed in the East from the Boston Celtics without the closest thing they have to a true big man.

There is a world where something like losing Thompson may come as an opportunity. While “thin” has been the operative, optimistic word to describe Cleveland’s front court this season, there’s room for hope while we wait to see what the Cavs do without Thompson for the first time in five years.

The first silver lining the possible emergence of Cleveland’s latest acquisition, Larry Sanders. Recalled from Canton immediately after Thompson’s injury, Sanders has shown glimpses of promise and concern in his limited time back on court. Earlier this week, Sanders posted an impressive 16-rebound effort in 19 minutes, but also shot an abysmal 2-10 form the field. He followed up this performance with a complete performance (10-9-3) His tendency to foul also suggests the recovery back to game speed has been stagnant. Nevertheless, after 58 seconds of fame from Andrew Bogut, it’s clear that Sanders is Cleveland’s last resort for rim protection. Determining where Sanders fits best in the front court and alongside which guards will be key to discover on Coach Lue’s end.

Sanders could be the patient big man Deron Williams needs to convert more pick and rolls into points. Thompson typically plays this role, but without him in the lineup, it’s be Sanders’ opportunity to earn shots in the offense. The Cavs typically rely on Williams as a combo guard with Irving to start quarters while LeBron James sits. This is the ideal strategy to get the 32 year old rest, yet the lineup seems to have caused static basketball that flounders without James penetrative ability to collapse defenses. With Sanders, there’s a new set of fresh legs that will add pressure on the glass and in the pick and roll, giving Williams and Irving some more options. Since Thompson starts and plays most of the 1st quarter, with or without him the Cavs face the issue of a lack of bench support. Sanders can begin to extend that Thompson-effect into the second unit.

Thompson’s injury also forces the Cavaliers to play through defensive adversity. Unfortunately, the reality is they must play through a couple liabilities on defense, namely Kevin Love and Channing Frye. With a drop-back approach, any pick and roll involved with these defenders typically (obviously) cause issues for the Cavs. What better to experiment on defensive lineups than with a former DPOY candidate?

Thompson typically is the Cavs best solution off switches next to Richard Jefferson and possibly now Derrick Williams. Isaiah Thomas is currently 7th in the league for scoring off the pick and roll – behind MVP front runners but ahead of every Cavalier. Without Thompson, Cleveland will have room to experiment with alternative schemes to surviving the screen.

The No. 1 seed would be a great accomplishment, but you can bet that the Cavs are looking at the final four games of the season at a chance to discover which rotations can be trusted in the playoffs. Perhaps, Larry Sanders can make that rotation with minutes coming his way in the next couple of games.

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