LOS ANGELES — As you may have heard, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving didn’t play against the Clippers Saturday night.
Which means they didn’t have the chance to address the firestorm surrounding their absence (as well as Kevin Love’s) from a 108-78 loss until the following night, after Cleveland’s Big 3 played in the Cavs’ 125-120 win over the Lakers.
“At the end of the day, it sucks at times where certain guys have to rest but certain guys need rest,” James said.
Neither Irving, who went off for 46 points against the Lakers, nor James, who added 34 points, would agree that the NBA has a problem of stars sitting out of too many games. They acknowledged the disappointment of fans and both said they wanted to play against the Clippers, but also said players resting at times throughout the regular season is unavoidable.
Three times this season, James, Irving, and Love were all held out of the same game, though in one Love was recovering from minor knee surgery.
Twice, in December against Memphis and over the weekend against the Clippers, the Cavs were ripped nationally for sitting their Big 3 as doing a disservice to two sets of paying customers: the fans who fork over hundreds of dollars for tickets, and in the case of Saturday’s game on ABC, the TV networks paying $24 billion to the league over nine seasons.
“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.”
James has missed six games this season — five to “rest” and one for strep throat. Irving has missed eight games and Love 21.
“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.”
The Cavs openly say they rest players at times so the team is healthy for the playoffs. By the time they reached the 2015 Finals, the Cavs were so decimated by injuries that then-coach David Blatt barely had seven healthy players he trusted. Since, the organization’s mantra has been to place health above all else during the regular season.
“A coach’s job is to figure out a way for their team to compete for a championship, not compete for a game,” James said. “And 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.”
Next year, the NBA will lengthen regular season in terms of calendar days and shrink the preseason to reduce the number of back-to-back games. But they won’t be eliminated.
The Cavs were scheduled for games on consecutive nights 16 times this season.
“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.”
When the word “problem” was thrown at James, he pinned it against the backboard like an Andre Iguodala layup.
“Well, I’ve been part of six straight Finals and every single season and every single Finals has been bigger and bigger and bigger and better and better and more people have tuned in,” James said. “So, I don’t see there’s a problem going on with our league. There’s nothing bad at all with our league right now.”