CLEVELAND — Tyronn Lue will coach his first game since March 17 for the Cavaliers when they host the Washington Wizards on Thursday, as first reported by cleveland.com.
Lue, 40, stepped away from the team for nine games to get under control some personal health issues that had plagued him all season. He’s feeling better, and so is his team — the Cavaliers went 8-1 with Lue gone, under the direction of associate head coach Larry Drew.
“Ty’s been around the team I would say the last five to six days,” Drew said Tuesday. “He’s kind of been gradually getting back into it. I can see that the guys have already embraced him.
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“So it’s just a matter of him being more hands on now once he does get back. I personally, just from what I’ve seen, it looks like everybody has rolled their sleeves up and just waiting for the day he comes back so they can get to work.”
Lue told cleveland.com he thought Drew did “a hell of a job” while he was gone. The Cavs have won four straight and seven in a row at home. They knocked off the East-leading Raptors (twice), the Milwaukee Bucks, and the New Orleans Pelicans while Lue was out.
These games are crucial for the Cavaliers, who entering play Wednesday held a half-game lead over the Philadelphia 76ers. Cleveland plays the Sixers Friday in Philadelphia.
The Wizards represent the second of three consecutive Eastern playoff teams the Cavs face down the stretch. Cleveland beat Toronto 112-106 on Tuesday.
“Mentally, I’m sharp and I’m focused on what we need to do in order to close out this regular season but more importantly with Thursday with Washington coming into our building,” said LeBron James, who is averaging a triple double in three games against the Wizards this season.
The Wizards have lost six of eight and entering play Wednesday were in seventh in the East. Their big welcome back party happened two games ago when John Wall returned to the lineup after missing 34 games because of knee surgery.
Washington has dropped both games since Wall returned — including a 120-104 loss to the West-leading Rockets on Tuesday. Wall has struggled in those games, shooting a combined 9-of-27. He also committed eight turnovers Tuesday.
“I tried to make a couple passes (where) I thought people would be but (they weren’t),” Wall said, according to the Washington Post. “So, it’s a testament in me getting used to playing with guys again and guys getting used to me and being in the right situation. But those are my mistakes.”
The Wizards have made it known they want to play the Cavs in the playoffs (strange, given that James has taken his teams to seven straight Finals and Cleveland is 9-4 in its last 13 against Washington).
But if the playoffs were Wednesday, the Wizards would have faced Boston as the No. 7 seed. The sixth seed plays No. 3, which as of now is the Cavaliers.
“I’m not comfortable with nothing, I’m trying to move up,” Wall said, according to the Post. “You know me. I’m just a person who goes out there and compete and try to win every game I play, and hopefully all these guys have that same type of mind-set.
“No matter who you play in the first round, who you play in the second round, it’s going to be a tough matchup because it’s the playoffs.”