LOS ANGELES — Does the NBA have a problem with featured games becoming prime-time flops when star players sit out for rest? LeBron James doesn’t think so.
A day after Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue decided to rest James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in his team’s 108-78 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on ABC, the four-time MVP scoffed at the idea that player rest is hurting the league’s appeal, and framed it as a simple reality of the sport.
“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.”
There were extenuating circumstances behind Lue’s decision, namely the health of Love and Irving, who were both recovering from knee ailments. Love was one game removed from making his return from arthroscopic knee surgery that kept him out a month and still on a minutes restriction. The Cavs’ medical staff preferred he get two to three days of rest before his next game.
Irving sat out the entire fourth quarter of Cleveland’s win over the Utah Jazz on Thursday because of tightness in his left knee, the same knee that required surgery after he hurt it in Game 1 of the 2015 NBA Finals.
With Love and Irving benefiting from an extra day of rest, Lue decided to hold out James as well, with the coach telling reporters that the decision made James “pissed.”
“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.”
The league apparently found some fault in Lue, however, as Cavs general manager David Griffin told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne he received a call from the league office shortly after Lue’s decision to hold his players out was announced.
“I mean, it’s stupid,” Lue said Sunday when asked about the league’s reaction. “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.”
Irving pointed to San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich’s experience with the tactic normalizing the practice for the rest of the league.
“Honestly this has been a topic probably for the entire season,” Irving said. “It’s coming into light more or less when Pop did it for four years running resting his guys. I can’t stress enough how important rest is. 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.”
Irving also defended the Cavs’ decision, pointing to the busy part of Cleveland’s season when it occurred.
“This is our sixth game in eight days and I don’t think anyone realized that,” he said, miscalculating slightly as it was their sixth game in nine days. “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. And then from the flip side of being a professional athlete, I understand my point of view and it’s going to outweigh anything.”
On Saturday against the Lakers, Irving (46 points), James (34) and Love (21) became the first trio of teammates to combine for at least 100 points in a game this season, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. The last trio to do it was Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol, who had 107 points for the Bulls on Dec. 18, 2015 against the Pistons.
“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. And then from the flip side of being a professional athlete, I understand my point of view and it’s going to outweigh anything.”
The 101 points by Irving, James and Love were also the most by a trio in Cavaliers history.
James was asked if, in his role as NBA Players Association vice president, he had any opinion on the players’ obligation to play in marquee television games considering the nine-year, $24 billion TV rights extension that was negotiated with ESPN/ABC and Turner in February.
“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.”
Last year’s NBA Finals series between the Cavs and Golden State Warriors averaged 20.28 million viewers per game, making it the most watched series on average since 1998 — Michael Jordan’s last Finals with the Bulls, which averaged 29.04 million viewers per game.
“The NBA has done a great job,” James said. “Listen, you can’t take nothing away from [former NBA commissioner] David [Stern], what he’s done. From what [current NBA commissioner] Adam [Silver] is doing right now. It’s the greatest game and it will continue to be that.”
LeBron: Coach’s job is to compete for a championship, not a game – ESPN