The defending champions beat the Los Angeles Lakers by 25 on Sunday night, and the crew could hardly be bothered. This might be a case of the Cleveland Cavaliers protesting too much, but it truly does feel as if the team isn’t concerned with what appears to be your overwhelming concern with the Cavs and other top squads resting players in anticipation of what could be a two-month playoff run.
The Cavs notoriously sat LeBron James for “rest” alongside star starters Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love on Saturday night against the Los Angeles Clippers, in a “Saturday Showcase” game televised by ABC. The broadcasters charged with calling what could have been a 2017 NBA Finals decided to understandably take off on the Cavaliers – and the Warriors and Spurs that came the Saturday before them. Following the game Sage Steele did as she does and quoted Karl Malone as insisting Irving and Love play the damn game.
“I don’t think the NBA can do anything about it,” James said following the Cavs’ 125-120 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. “At the end of the day, it sucks at times where certain guys have to rest, but certain guys need rest.
“And it’s a long, strenuous season and the NBA does a great job of putting the schedule together as best as they can. You’re going to have back-to-backs. You’re going to have certain games where certain things fall on certain nights, but a coach’s job is to figure out a way for their team to compete for a championship, not compete for a game.”
“Obviously it sucks at times because certain games you only play in certain cities once, or you play certain teams once on their home floor, but for me personally, I want to play in every game,” said James, who has played in 63 of the Cavs’ 69 games this season. “I wanted to play last night but my coach felt like it was best that I didn’t play last night, so I’m going to go with my coach and he’s never steered me wrong.”
James could have been a little more cross, especially with Karl Malone involved:
"If I ever want to hear stories about the best ways to lose to MJ I'll be sure to give Karl a ring."
–LeBron in my dream response to Malone
— Benjamin Hoffman (@BenHoffmanNYT) March 20, 2017
The Cavs, some 2 1/2 games up on the Boston Celtics for the top spot in the East with 13 to play, went into Los Angeles and took a split. Even when it was the Lakers that were playing on ABC on Saturday night, with the lowly Clippers to follow in a local game on Sunday, that’s a good enough take.
Mainly because the idea of a “Saturday Showcase” is new, debuted for the 2014-15 season, the latest addition in a “national” television schedule that, to the great delight of NBA fans, puts a contest on either ABC, ESPN, TNT or NBA TV every single night of the week. For fans, Mark Cuban’s hog comments about the NFL getting “fat” with repeated national viewings doesn’t yet apply.
For players, especially those that have to near 100 games traveled and (mostly) played between October and mid-June, the frustration is clearly showing. Star teams are dumping star players for what could be close, wearying games that just happened to be on national television. Shockingly, those games are chosen in August by league schedule-makers when it seems like the Cavaliers and Clippers and especially the Spurs and Warriors would have a lot to decide come mid-March.
Mid-March came, and two different championship-level coaches in Tyronn Lue and Golden State’s Steve Kerr decided that one night of rest was more important for the stars in the spotlight than ABC’s “Showcase.” Kevin Love, entering Saturday, had played just one game after needing nearly five weeks to recover from knee surgery. Irving left Thursday’s contest against the Jazz with a
Lue, the Cavs coach working in his first full season, would like to once again remind folks that some of his Cavs were injured, and that this will also remain the month of March for 11 more days:
“I mean, it’s stupid,” coach Tyronn Lue said of the criticism. “Kyrie didn’t come back the game before, knee soreness, Kevin just had his first game back, we needed two days in between each game. It’s OK, though, whatever. It’s stupid.”
“This is our sixth game in eight days and I don’t think anyone realized that,” Irving said. “We’re not here to complain about it but honestly playing basketball six games in eight days is a lot. But we prepare our bodies for it and I don’t have any ill-will toward the NBA being disappointed or the fans because I totally understand.”
“I can’t stress enough how important rest is,” Irving said. “You’ve got veterans who have come before us who play 82 games that have their opinions and we’re just in a different time now. The smart way of taking care of your body and understanding what the important goal is at the end of the season it’s at the forefront of our minds. We’re playing for a championship run, playoff run.”
Again, credit a Cav for not only pointing out that 1997 does something one way, and 2017 does something another way, but for also declining to take a shot at Karl Malone when it comes to that “championship run.”
Because you do need the legs, come June:
That was cheap, and Malone would be correct in shooting back about James’ 37.6 minutes per game – a mark that has seen him either leading the league (or close to it) in that category since late December. It’s the most James has played per contest since 2014, when he broke down during the first game of the NBA Finals due to overheating and cramps. Lue, working ahead in the East due to Boston’s 13-12 start, hasn’t adhered to the same plan that has the younger Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant playing 33 minutes apiece.
What he has done, and this is remarkable, is keep his team on a steady course. This isn’t to say there weren’t mini-uprisings, but this is the sort of club that would seem to overtaken by the poison of championship order and exposure if it were working some 40 years ago. Instead of this working as a lost year, the Cavaliers’ championship structure (which includes coaching staff, players and general manager David Griffin) has kept workers from the top to middle (usually where the troubles start) to the end of the bench on point and knowing their role.
Richard Jefferson’s role is to make dad jokes about half the team sitting for what feels like half the team’s games:
Never change RJ ???? pic.twitter.com/sRu25NOQKF
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) March 20, 2017
LeBron James’ gig, as someone who successfully defended a championship in 2013 (his lone back-to-back title thus far), is to keep his teammates, coaches and front office on edge. Kevin Love puts up the big man stats, and Kyrie Irving’s dry sense of perspective (we know) and unerring touch around the rim acts as the perfect on and off court salve.
The team still isn’t defending much, but a strong showing against the Jazz in Cleveland (83 points for Utah, terrible offensive numbers across the board on the second night of a back to back) on Thursday is at least a start.
As we prattled on about on Sunday, this isn’t going to last long. If the NBA succeeds in doing as it should with the extended schedule in 2017-18, the league won’t be faced with having to pin great teams down to an ABC game on the second (or, in Cleveland’ case, “first” in advance of that frightening showdown with the tanking Lakers) night of a back to back. The 82-game schedule is not going anywhere, at least not soon.
If the NBA is still dealing with this in a year’s time, then we have a problem. For now, it’s an annoyance.
And the Cavs are just about done with it.
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