INDEPENDENCE, Ohio – Coach Tyronn Lue laid out a two-pronged plan for his Cleveland Cavaliers as they head into the post All-Star break portion of the schedule: Capture the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and find some games off for LeBron James.
Only Lue wants one to happen before the other.
“I talked to our team about the most important thing right now is to try and get home-court advantage for the East,” Lue said at Cavs shootaround Thursday in preparation for Cleveland’s game against Chicago Bulls. “Toronto is playing great basketball. I think they’re three games behind us. If we can get a little bit of a cushion, then we can try to rest LeBron a lot. Just try to get him a couple games here and there, try to take the wear and tear off his body.”
Cleveland, at 38-14, is indeed 3.0 games ahead of the 35-17 Raptors. The Cavs have split their first two games against the Raptors this season, with a third and final meeting coming Feb. 26 in Toronto.
James, meanwhile, has played in 51 of the Cavs’ first 52 games this season – sitting out only one back end of a back-to-back for rest.
James, a 13-year veteran, missed a career-high 13 games last season, but most of those games were because of injury, not for rest. This season, James’ minutes are down to a career-low 35.9 per game from last year’s 36.1. So Cleveland has been cognizant of James’ workload. But they’d still like to rest him even more.
“Usually with LeBron, the career minutes that he has on his body, he always, every year he plays a lot of games,” Lue said. “And being in the Finals five straights years, he tries to get through the season and then towards the end of the season, the second half of the season he really picks it up to try and get himself to where he wants to be going into the playoffs. But he’s been great all season for me. I don’t know what things he could do different than what he’s already done this far. But whatever he’s got, whatever he has to give, I’ll take it.”
Cleveland made it to the Finals last season as a No. 2 seed in the East, however Lue wants every advantage he can for his team heading into the postseason.
“We have great fans here, first of all, and I think we just play so good at home,” Lue said. “And you never know in the playoffs, it can be a rough patch – like the Boston Celtics of 2008, they didn’t win a road game until the Eastern Conference finals. So having homecourt in the playoffs is very important because it’s a tough, intense time.”