If LeBron James really wants to play with Carmelo Anthony, Saturday night is as close as he'll get for a while.
For now, he might want to concentrate on how he and his current teammates can co-exist for 48 minutes.
Following another loss in which his team's effort was questioned, James and the Cleveland Cavaliers try to avoid going 0-for-2 on their trip to the Big Apple against Anthony's New York Knicks.
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said at the morning shootaround that he's going to rest Kyrie Irving for this game. The team is 18-8 this season without the star point guard, whose average of 28.4 points in five career games at Madison Square Garden is easily his highest in any venue.
Irving's absence puts added pressure on James to control the offense. Rather than the focus being on Cleveland's tight race with Toronto for the Eastern Conference's top seed, most of the recent attention around the Cavaliers (51-21) has centered on James' social media habits.
Shortly after pointing out that he was preparing to stay away from such distractions as the playoffs neared, James found himself in the midst of a big one due to the Wednesday publication of an article based on a February interview. The four-time MVP admitted to wanting to play with friends Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul at some point before their careers end, a diversion so odd that general manager David Griffin addressed it with James before the day was out.
The air may have been cleared, but the Cavaliers' on-court problems are lingering. Cleveland followed its 113-104 victory over Milwaukee on Wednesday with a dud in Brooklyn a night later, as Irving, Kevin Love and J.R. Smith shot a combined 14 for 46 (30.4 percent) in a 104-95 loss.
“Tonight we took a step backwards, and we can't afford to do that late in the season like this,” said James, who had 30 points on 13-of-16 shooting but was scoreless in the fourth quarter.
“What bothers me is our effort sometimes. That's the only time I get a little frustrated because I understand the moment we have, and it's not given every year that you have a team like this where you have an opportunity to do something special.”
James at least seems to be on the same page as his coach.
''The biggest thing for me is just competing for 48 minutes,” Tyronn Lue said.
James won't have a chance for an on-court reunion with Wade or Paul unless one arises in the playoffs, so sharing the floor with Anthony will have to suffice for now.
They didn't get that chance in the most recent meeting, a 91-84 Cavs home win Dec. 23. Anthony sat out with a sprained right ankle as both Love and Kristaps Porzingis finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds while James scored 24.
James outscored him 54-43 in two Cleveland victories in November. The Cavs have shot just 40.2 percent – 23.4 from 3 – against New York (30-43) this season, but have held the Knicks to an average of 84.7 points.
New York found offensive life much easier this week against a team fighting to make the playoffs. Porzingis had 29 points in a 115-107 win at Chicago on Wednesday, then had 19 and 10 boards while Anthony scored 26 in a 106-94 victory in Thursday's rematch at Madison Square Garden.
Porzingis hit five 3-pointers in the back-to-back – one fewer than he knocked down in his first eight games this month – as the Knicks went 27 of 55 from beyond the arc.
“I've been working a lot on my shot,” Porzingis said. “The game is kind of getting easier for us, and we're finding our rhythm, I'm finding my rhythm and we're trying to be aggressive.”