Cavaliers counting on experienced Max Strus in playoffs

Apr. 17—Max Strus is like a jungle guide leading a group on a safari to some ancient temple that is not on any map.

In this case, the people Strus is leading are his Cavaliers teammates as they embark on a playoff journey that begins April 20 in a game with the Orlando Magic at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. Strus is leading the journey because last year he played on the Miami Heat team that finished eighth in the East and, against all odds, advanced all the way to the NBA Finals before finally falling to the Denver Nuggets.

Strus and the Cavaliers on April 17 began their practice for the Magic after getting April 15 off and April 16 as a day for film study.

Donovan Mitchell said, "This is the longest week of the year," but he is grateful to have the time off to rest his ailing left knee.

"Game 1 tells you everything," Max Strus said Wednesday as the #Cavaliers began practice for their best-of-seven playoff series with the Orlando #Magic. Game 1 is 1 p.m. Saturday at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

— Jeff Schudel (@jsproinsider) April 17, 2024

The Cavaliers' lack of playoff experience was exposed when they were eliminated by the Knicks in the first round of the postseason last year. Strus was acquired in a trade with the Heat last summer to fill that void and to give the Cavs an outside scoring threat.

Strus has been all business since the day he put on a Cavaliers uniform. He was the same way during his three seasons with the Heat. He wouldn't even smile on April 14 after recording the first triple-double of his NBA career (259 games) because the Cavs lost the game to the Charlotte Hornets, 120-110.

"Playoff basketball is special," Strus said after the practice at Cleveland Clinic Courts in Independence. "There's nothing like it. Every possession matters. Not that it doesn't in the regular season. It's just heightened a little bit. That's what you live for as an NBA player — to compete at a level like this and play in big games."

The Heat were a mediocre 41-41 in the 2022-23 regular season. Then they knocked off the Bucks (58-24), Knicks (47-35) and Celtics (57-25) on the way to the Finals. Strus said he and his Miami teammates could feel their confidence and momentum growing with each step they took.

"I hope my experience and knowledge can help us make a long playoff run," Strus said. "I've been through a lot, seen a lot and experienced a lot. I hope I can keep a mental strength in the room and not get too high or too low in the playoffs and just try to help this team."

Strus isn't the only veteran who was added to the roster with playoff experience on his resume. Power forward Georges Niang was in 46 playoff games with the Pacers, Jazz and 76ers over seven seasons before signing with the Cavs. His teams were 23-23.

Tristan Thompson, signed in September to add an experienced big man behind Jarrett Allen, has been in 94 playoff games in his 12-year career. He was with the Cavaliers when they won the NBA championship in 2016. He played for the Celtics, Kings, Pacers, Bulls and Lakers after leaving the Cavs after the 2020-21 season.

Thompson does not log the same playing time as Strus (32 minutes a game) or Niang (22.3). Thompson is averaging 11.2 minutes and appeared in only 49 games this season. Nevertheless, his playoff experience will be valuable.

"It's more in action," Coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. "They speak their mind and they say things, but they know in the moment what's necessary to do, and when everybody around them sees them do those things, it gives them confidence and they follow suit.

"We want them to talk, but talk goes only so far. You have to have the action and those guys are actionable."

The Cavs will practice again April 18 and 19 in Independence.


What: Eastern Conference quarterfinals, Game 1

When: 1 p.m., April 20

Where: Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse

Records: Magic 47-35, Cavaliers 48-34