LeBron still not practicing; status for opener unclear
The season opener is four days away and there are doubts LeBron James will be ready.
James still isn’t practicing because of a troublesome back and there’s no guarantee he’ll be on the floor when the Cavs begin their quest for an NBA title on Tuesday in Chicago.
The four-time MVP received an anti-inflammatory injection in his back on Oct. 13, but hasn’t practiced since as he hasn’t been cleared by Cleveland’s medical and training staffs. James, who played in just two of Cleveland’s seven preseason games, said Friday that he’s not positive he’ll be on the floor against the Bulls.
"If everything goes right," he said. "We feel like we’re progressing really well and if we can continue to do that, then I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to go."
Earlier this week, Cavs coach David Blatt said James would "absolutely" play against the Bulls. Now that doesn’t seem nearly as certain, and general manager David Griffin raised the possibility that Cleveland could rest its biggest star for the opener.
"He really wants to compete," Griffin said. "I don’t think that there’s any reason that he won’t play on Tuesday. We have no reason to believe that, but we also are of the mindset that it wouldn’t be the end of the world if he didn’t play on Tuesday. We just want him to get better every day and he has been and he’s been progressing and feeling like we’d like him to feel."
The Cavs won’t practice again until Sunday.
When the media was allowed into Friday’s practice, James was in a good mood as he joked around with Kyrie Irving and a few other teammates. He was more somber when asked if he’d practice, simply shaking his head before being asked if that was his choice.
"Is it by choice? No, that’s the schedule I’m on," James said. "I’m trying to listen to the training staff and not be hard headed. So, I’m going with them. When they tell me I’m cleared to practice, I’ll practice."
James received a similar shot last season when he was slowed by back pain and a strained left knee. The 30-year-old wound up sitting out two weeks, and returned revived before leading the Cavs to the Eastern Conference title and their first trip to the NBA Finals since he took them there in 2007.
Entering his 13th season as a pro, James is more mindful of his minutes and wants to be healthy when it matters most: in the playoffs. Last week, James said he would get another back injection if needed.
The Cavs said James’ second shot in 10 months was more preventative in nature, and Griffin said "thus far everything is going exactly as we mapped it out."
"He takes part in more of practice every day. We haven’t cleared him to just be full go, which is annoying to him quite frankly," he said. "You guys aren’t in here during the live action of practice, but when the starting group is running up and down, he’s running alongside them and we actually have to have people walk over and tell him to settle down."
While James is in impeccable shape — Griffin said "radically" better than a year ago — and believes he’s ready to practice and play, the Cavs are being overly cautious with their franchise player. Griffin said the team wants James to be stronger before giving him the OK to work out.
"In order to just feel really comfortable cutting him loose, we want to see him do a few more things from a strength standpoint and from a just an overall preventative maintenance standpoint," Griffin said. "Really this comes down to more than anything else just keeping him from putting miles on himself. And that’s really hard to do. If it was up to him, he’d be here 2-3 times a day already. So, we’re really just trying to dial him back more than anything else."
James played a career-low 36.1 minutes per game last season, and Blatt hopes to trim that number some this season. The Cavs understand it’s more important to have James playing at an optimal level in June, not January.
"Anyone who has played the number of games and has the mileage on his back he does, you’ve got to take into consideration how you’re going to manage minutes and how you manage games in order for him to stay as fresh as possible," Blatt said. "That’s something we’re constantly looking at, constantly talking to him about, too."