With just a week remaining before the defense of their NBA title begins in earnest, the Cleveland Cavaliers and All-Star guard Kyrie Irving seem to have a bit of a dilemma.
Coach Tyronn Lue recently revealed the plan has always been for the Cavs to rest Irving and LeBron James as soon as the team secured the No. 1 seed in the East.
But with Irving showing signs of favoring his surgically repaired left knee, all the team’s best-laid plans could now be in jeopardy.
Irving shared his knee bothered him to no end during the team’s off-day on April 6, and less than 24-hours later he and the Cavs showed the effects of all the pain in their brutal 114-100 home loss to an Atlanta team that was without All-Star Paul Millsap, Dwight Howard, Kent Bazemore, Dennis Schroder and Thabo Sefolosha.
“I mean it’s never easy, even the year after, just to realize that you have plates and screws in your knee and stuff like that,” Irving said after Friday night’s nightmare loss to a depleted Hawks’ team was over.
“I’m doing everything possible to take care of my body, I’ve got a clear conscience with that,” added Irving, who first suffered the injury during the 2015 Finals. “But I also understand that sometimes it’s gonna hurt. And I gotta be able to deal with it.”
With the Hawks now leading the Celtics by just a game, Irving conceded that games against the Hawks on Sunday and Miami on Monday are significant for more reasons than one.
“The next few days are pretty important,” he said. “Just doing everything possible to prepare.” The Cavs end the regular season hosting the Toronto Raptors Wednesday night.
“I don’t know,” Lue said when asked if he needed to re-evaluate his plan after the Hawks disaster. “I’ve got to see how they feel,” he added. “I know ‘Bron wanted this one pretty bad and he didn’t want to come out of the game. He said, ‘This is big, we need this one.’ I don’t know if guys were tired. I just know we didn’t respect those guys.”
Though he shot 8-of-13 from the field against the Hawks, the Cavs were a -13 with Irving on the floor and were outscored 62-50 over the second half.
“I just did my best all of yesterday just trying to recover and do everything possible,” he said. “I had a great chance of playing at a high level, and then after halftime it just (expletive) flared up. Excuse my language, sorry.”
But things are getting serious for the Cavs and all of a sudden Lue’s original plan of resting Irving and James while allowing J.R. Smith, Kevin Love and Kyle Korver to catch their rhythm doesn’t seem all the practical.
Irving missed the first two months of last season, recuperating from a broken kneecap, the remnants of which also caused him to a miss time this season with soreness.
With Irving and James leading the attack, the Cavs rallied from a 3-1 Finals deficit against the defending champion Golden State Warriors last season to become the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 hole, bringing the city of Cleveland its first sports title in a major sport in more than five decades in the process.
In Game 5 against the Warriors, Irving and James became the first teammates in history to each score over 40 points in a finals game. Irving added another 33 in a pivotal Game 7, including the game-winning jumper, en route to averaging 27.1 ppg for the series.
[Featured Image by Jason Miller/Getty Images]