CLEVELAND -- With less than a month remaining in the regular season, Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue is preparing to start pulling players from the lineup for rest as soon as this week.
The Cavs -- coming off a 3-1 road trip where tired legs contributed to a 94-85 loss on just 39.8 percent shooting in the finale in Utah on Monday -- face a ferocious upcoming schedule.
“Three [games] in four nights,” said Lue. “Have a game and then leave again and have a back-to-back. So during that three-game stretch I will look to rest guys.”
Rather than fly out after the game in Salt Lake City late Monday night and arrive in Cleveland around 5 a.m. Tuesday, the team elected to stay in Utah to get a full night’s sleep. The team also canceled its Wednesday morning shootaround prior to hosting the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night in order to make up for the off day it was forgoing by spending the day flying on Tuesday.
After hosting the Mavs, the Cavs hit the road again Thursday for a back-to-back in Orlando and Miami on Friday and Saturday.
Coming out of the All-Star break, Lue stated that he wanted his team to secure the No. 1 seed in the East before he started resting players ahead of the postseason.
Since then, he has come off that stance a bit. The Toronto Raptors have actually gained a half game on Cleveland since the break, leaving the Cavs with a 2 ½ game lead over the Raptors for first place in the conference with 16 games left to play, yet he has already begun resting players.
First, Lue held LeBron James out of the lineup for the Cavs’ 113-99 matinee loss to the Washington Wizards. Then, following a three-day gap in the schedule with no games for the Cavs, he had Kevin Love sit for Cleveland’s 108-83 win over Washington later that week.
The explanation for the timing of Love’s game off was to extend his rest period -- rather than having him come back for a day and then sit out the following day on the second night of a back-to-back against Boston, a team source told ESPN.com.
If that remains the team philosophy on rest, then James -- or any other player Lue deems to rest -- would be more likely to sit against Orlando and have Thursday and Friday off, and then play Saturday in Miami.
Lue has already said he would also like to work in some rest for J.R. Smith and Kyrie Irving before the season’s close. After missing the first 24 games of the season while recovering from knee surgery, Irving said he wanted to play in every remaining game on the schedule upon his return. He has, however, vowed to acquiesce to Lue’s orders.
After this week, the Cavs have three remaining sets of back-to-backs this season. The safe bet is Lue uses them as opportunities to sit the Cavs’ Big Three and beyond.