With Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell and Caris LeVert unavailable for the Cleveland Cavaliers' game against the Charlotte Hornets, other players needed to step up in Cleveland's regular-season finale. Well, actually, the Cavs would need other key players to step up for the first three quarters since Cleveland didn't plan to run their guys into the ground with more to play for in the playoffs. After that, the Cavs would empty the bench and hope for the best, win or lose.

“We wanted to stick to our plan,” head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said postgame. “We were aware of some of that stuff going on, but once we sat our guys at the end of the third quarter, they had the mindset that they weren’t going to go back in. I didn’t want to take any risks in putting them back in the game when they had already cooled down and then something else happened.”

While Cleveland's focus is to win every game, like any other NBA team, the bigger picture dictated getting into the postseason as healthily as possible and washing away the sins of what went wrong last year. Back then, the Cavs flamed out in the first round for several reasons, with their lack of outside shooting and tertiary playmaking in the starting lineup returning to haunt them.

So, while the primary focus wasn't on dominating Charlotte in this matchup, they did have one role-player step up in Max Strus, who showcased the talent and ability to be a panacea for a team looking to cure its playoff woes. Strus showcased exactly what they lacked last postseason against the New York Knicks.

Max Strus was on the loose in Cleveland's loss

Leading into this season, Strus came to the Cavs with a reputation as a shooter, but he's proven to his teammates and coaches that he's much more than that, including being a secondary playmaker.

“I didn't know he had that in his game, to be honest with you,” Mitchell said after Cleveland’s win over the Indiana Pacers. “He’s the guy that we’ve come to trust when he’s running pick-and-roll and getting into the paint. . . He has so many different elements of his game [that lead to] winning basketball.”

Without Mitchell, Garland, LeVert and eventually Craig Porter Jr., Strus displayed more of that playmaking against the Hornets. He picked up the first triple-double of his career with 14 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds, which was why the Cavaliers were leading through three and a half quarters.

“Max is a total basketball player,” Bickerstaff said. “When you call on him in a pinch, you know he’s capable of helping you out in a bunch of different ways.”

While Max Strus doesn't fix all the issues that plagued Cleveland last year, he certainly helps improve them. Last season, only three players could reliably pass, dribble and shoot for the Cavs, which made them predictable in the slower, half-court offenses that dictate the playoffs.

This predictability allowed the Knicks to completely disrupt their game by being physical and bringing two to the ball whenever the guards called for a screen. This led to an offense that couldn’t get out of its own way.

But with Strus out there now, who is already battle-tested after an NBA Finals run with the Miami Heat last season, he can be a safety valve for a Cleveland team that needs to be more dynamic. Sure, the Cavs, especially Strus, wish they ended the regular season on a high note. But, they should feel better about their chances against a pesky Orlando Magic squad in the first round compared to last year.