INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- The Cleveland Cavaliers have settled on the two players who will join their Big Three in the starting lineup when the regular season begins next week.
Cavs coach David Blatt said Friday that Anderson Varejao will start at center against the New York Knicks on Thursday, joining Dion Waiters at shooting guard and Cleveland's star-studded trio of small forward LeBron James, power forward Kevin Love and point guard Kyrie Irving.
Varejao, 32, beat out the 23-year-old Tristan Thompson for the starting nod on opening night.
Blatt said that the decision came down, in part, to Varejao's history of playing alongside James. The two were teammates from 2004 to '10.
"That was more or less the idea of beginning with Andy just because those two guys are so good together," Blatt said. "And Tristan is equally as efficient in either case. So, that's more or less the basis, but it doesn't mean that Tristan won't be starting some of the games. I'm sure he will be. Just right now, that's the way we're looking to go."
James has ties to Thompson, as well, of course, as they both share the same agent in Rich Paul.
"They're both high-energy guys, and they're both a very, very key proponent and [piece] to our [puzzle]," James said. "One thing about Andy, he's a veteran, he's been a part of big games, and he kind of knows what's going on at all times, and I think it's his seniority that gets him the nod.
"He's a guy who kind of plays under the rim and uses his touch and uses his quickness, and Tristan gives us the guy above the rim. So it's great for those guys to complement each other, both with their ability to rebound, with their ability to finish around the rim. They just do it different ways."
Reflecting on his relationship with Varejao, with whom he teamed to reach the 2007 Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, James said it has been "like riding a bike" to be around him again.
"If you've seen some of the preseason games we played in, it's like we never missed a beat," James said.
After appearing in just 50 of a possible 164 games in the last two seasons because of a variety of injuries, Varejao had a solid preseason, averaging 10.2 points and 4.6 rebounds while shooting 59.5 percent from the field.
Thompson started in the Cavs' first preseason game, putting up 14 points and 13 rebounds. Despite coming off the bench for the rest of the exhibition schedule, the fourth-year big man was able to approximate that production, averaging 10.8 points and 7.8 rebounds in four games as a reserve. (He also had 17 points and 11 rebounds in one other preseason start at power forward, filling in for Love.)
Thompson has started 189 of the 224 games he's played in during his career, but Blatt said he isn't taking the lineup decision like a demotion.
"He's one of the best guys out there," Blatt said. "Tristan wants to win, and Tristan knows that if he's coming in in the second wave, his job is going to be just what it would be if he was starting the game, and that's to be Tristan -- a rebounder, an inside scorer, an all-around-the-court defender and a guy that you can really pair and match with any other big man on our team."
Added Blatt: "I really think it has a lot to do with the fit, how Andy plays together with LeBron. And the fact that Tristan can play coming off the bench. He's pretty good at it. I say again, guys, for me they're both starters. They're simply both starters. Only one is going to begin the game, the other isn't. That's all."