How the Cleveland Cavaliers have found their X-Factor for the playoffs

Max Strus, Cleveland Cavaliers
Max Strus, Cleveland Cavaliers / Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

There has not been a litany of positive takeaways from the Cleveland Cavaliers' recent play, but lately, it has been nice to watch Max Strus back in the lineup after working through knee soreness.

With him playing more than ever in his NBA career, Strus has responded well to the increased workload. He's had career-bests in points (12.3), rebounds (4.6) and assists (3.7) per contest, as he's taken his full-time starting role in stride with Cleveland.

Strus had been out from March 5-25 but has returned for Cleveland's last three games. With him seemingly ready to go, that should give Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell and the rest of the Wine and Gold a needed boost going into the playoffs. In the postseason, Strus could quickly prove to be a true X-Factor for the Cavaliers.

Max Strus is the Cavaliers' X-Factor in the playoffs

Strus has given the Cavs contributions in countless areas this season, and while he's had some inconsistencies as a perimeter shooter, he's made quite the all-around impact on both ends of the floor.

The veteran wing's shooting numbers are not as great as many had hoped, but his long-range capabilities and movement shooting should make a noticeable difference in the playoffs. It was sensible for Cleveland to go out and bring him in last offseason via sign-and-trade from the Miami Heat despite a dip in efficiency. Strus has brought much more to the table on both ends of the court than launching from deep. The Cavs have faced multiple games that they would not have won without Strus' effort and hustle.

Strus has not been automatic, per se, as he's shot 34.6 percent from three; however, his movement shooting and off-ball play have paid dividends for others around him. In the playoffs, his reputation should do the same for Cleveland's drivers and interior threats. It's not as if Strus' deep attempts have been mostly open, just simply standstill shots, either. Only 18.8 percent of Strus' three-point attempts have been with a defender more than six feet away from him.

On the other end of the floor, Strus has been one of the Cavaliers' most impactful defenders this season. He's been effective at containing opposing wings and forwards, often resulting in his matchups being forced into tough looks. As a team defender, his active hands and rebounding positioning have been huge for Cleveland.

Additionally, Strus' playoff experience should help the Cavs, who still have several guys without much playoff exposure at this juncture. Strus made two deep postseason runs with the Heat in the prior two campaigns. Though he had a rough NBA Finals last year, he's had moments in past series with Miami that built his reputation as a dependable wing. Max Strus should be a reliable presence and voice for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Strus has had his share of playoff battles with the Heat in recent prior seasons, and he knows what playoff intensity is. For a Cavs team that's had their rough stretches of late and last year experienced postseason failure, a solid two-way presence in Strus can potentially help as a calming presence in high-leverage situations

This Cavaliers team has a lot to prove in the postseason, and they're coming off a month of March they need to flush, and quickly. That said, this team should be better suited for playoff time this go-around, at least going into it with more guys that have been on that stage, and Strus could be a difference-maker as a two-way player.

When Strus has played, the Cavaliers are 40-23 this year. He's been terrific for them during this regular season, and hopefully, he can be a key contributor for them come playoff time in a deep run.

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