LeBron James has declared himself ready for his 13th NBA season since the Cleveland Cavaliers superstar’s lower back is feeling better.
Fellow former MVP Derrick Rose may have only one good eye, but he insists he will be ready to go for the Chicago Bulls.
The Cavaliers eliminated the Bulls in last season’s conference semifinals and look to spoil Fred Hoiberg’s coaching debut for Chicago on Tuesday night at the United Center.
James’ return to Cleveland in 2014-15 was a resounding success, leading the club to a 53-29 season and its second NBA Finals appearance with a six-game loss to Golden State. The four-time MVP had two triple-doubles, tied for most ever, and averaged 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists in the Finals as the Cavaliers played without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.
James practiced each of the last two days after sitting out nearly two weeks since receiving an anti-inflammatory injection for his back. He is ready for Tuesday – a contest he isn’t emphasizing.
”We’re not going to put too much on the first game of the season,” he said. ”We’ve put in a lot of work over the last few weeks, and you can only try to get healthy, work your habits, work your rhythm and our last few practices have been very good. But you don’t put too much onus on if this will be the team that we’ll be long-term tomorrow.”
Rose needed surgery to repair a fractured left orbital suffered on the first day of practice, an injury that was not as serious as the torn ACL in his left knee or the torn meniscus in his right knee that derailed the Bulls in recent seasons. He returned for the club’s final preseason game and will play Tuesday.
”I was playing with one eye, and you can’t tell that I was playing with one eye,” he said. ”In any profession, that’s just like you all with having just one arm or one hand, something like that, and typing. If you’re able to do it, you’re able to do it. If not, you’ve got to sit down.”
Rose and Chicago represent perhaps the biggest threat to Eastern Conference supremacy for Cleveland after the Bulls finished 50-32 last season. They lost in six games to the Cavaliers, getting eliminated by a James-led club for the third time in five seasons and dismissed defensive-oriented coach Tom Thibodeau.
Hoiberg, who played for Chicago between 1999-2003, is now the man in charge after a successful stint coaching alma mater Iowa State. He has a long history with Bulls executives John Paxson and Gar Forman, an assistant under Tim Floyd at Iowa State when Hoiberg played there.
”It’s been a fun group to be around,” Hoiberg said. ”I think we’ve made strides since we opened up our training camp.”
The coach has already made one major lineup change, saying Nikola Mirotic will start up front with Joakim Noah expected to come off the bench.
Cleveland will welcome back Love from the dislocated left shoulder suffered in the first round of the playoffs.
Irving, who came into the league in 2011-12, is still recovering from surgery on a broken kneecap and is still weeks away from his season debut. This marks the 12th time in 16 regular-season meetings between the Bulls and Cavaliers during Irving’s career in which either he or Rose has been out.
Cleveland captured three of four in the regular season from Chicago last season. The Cavs started 1-3 in 2014-15, with the lone victory an overtime win at the United Center that ended Chicago’s six-game win streak in home openers.
Love and company are looking forward to repeating the feat.
”We’ll be on the road. It will be us, our traveling staff, our traveling team against those 20,000 fans and the Bulls, so it’s going to be a tough environment,” Love said. ”When that ball goes in the air, I think we’ll be ready.”