It may have appeared that Cavaliers coach Mike Brown’s worst nightmare came true Monday when LeBron James was carried off the court following practice. But it was just the usual Cavs antics: James had been playfully stuffed into an equipment bag and taken off the floor by teammates Jamario Moon and Leon Powe, among others. Brown has held James out of the last three games to avoid injury since Cleveland has already clinched home-court advantage throughout the postseason.
Now he’s reconsidering.
Shaquille O’Neal has been cleared to return, leaving Brown to wonder if his two stars should play together in Wednesday’s finale at Atlanta before the playoffs start over the weekend.
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"They probably wouldn’t play the whole game on Wednesday, so are we going to be that much better because they played 20 minutes together?" Brown said. "Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. I keep going back and forth."
James doesn’t care whether he plays against the Hawks. He has enjoyed the time off and will meet with Brown and his teammates before a decision is reached.
"I’m ready for the playoffs right now whether I play on Wednesday or I don’t," James said. "I’ll see how the guys feel and go from there."
The Cavaliers have made major adjustments to their starting lineup twice this season — both spawned losing streaks. They lost their first two games of the season while working in newcomers O’Neal, Moon and Anthony Parker. They lost their first two with Antawn Jamison after he was acquired from Washington at the trade deadline.
Cleveland doesn’t have time for extended losing streaks in the playoffs while working O’Neal back into the rotation. The starting lineup Cleveland plans to use for the playoffs — Parker, James, Jamison, O’Neal and Mo Williams — were together for just three full games before O’Neal tore a ligament in his thumb on Feb. 25.
"At the beginning of the year with Shaq … and at the trade deadline with Antawn, I’d never had the chance to coach or have the feel for them come game time," Brown said. "At least this time, I’ve gone through it with everybody. I feel more comfortable about it.
"It may take a little bit of time or an adjustment period, but I don’t think it’ll be what it was before."
O’Neal’s right hand was taped Monday as he left the court without speaking to reporters. James said during Sunday’s national telecast between the Magic and Cavaliers that O’Neal has lost 20 pounds during his time off.
"He won’t be in game shape," James said Monday. "He’s in shape, but it’s totally different from being out on the court. But he’s ready to go."