Cleveland sits both stars in regular-season finale
By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA (AP) — LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal will make their next appearance together in the playoffs.
Both James and O’Neal were sitting out Cleveland’s regular-season finale against the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night, coach Mike Brown announced after the teams’ morning shootaround.
While Brown worried about a lack of chemistry heading into the playoffs, he was more concerned about the top-seeded Cavaliers sustaining a needless injury to one of their key players.
When asked how close he came to suiting up either player against the Hawks, Brown said, “It was not close at all.”
The regular-season finale means nothing to either team. The Cavaliers have already locked up the No. 1 spot in the East and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, while Atlanta has clinched the No. 3 seed in the conference.
The Hawks were expected to sit most of their starters, as well, turning the last game of the regular season into little more than an exhibition.
James, who was to miss his fourth straight game, hasn’t played since Cleveland clinched everything it could heading into the playoffs. The Cavaliers were mindful of getting him as much rest as he could after he sat out only the final game last season — and his team was upset by Orlando in the conference finals.
O’Neal hasn’t played since Feb. 25 because of a sprained right thumb, and Brown toyed with the idea of getting the 38-year-old center at least a few minutes before the playoffs started.
In the end, the fear of injury prompted the coach to give O’Neal the night off.
“The final decision — good or bad — rests on my shoulders,” Brown said. “You never know if it’s going to be a struggle for them to come back and play together.”
James, who did not speak with the media, has been practicing regularly and he wrapped up the shootaround by dunking a flip-flop and trying a few trick shows from the bench.
Joking around with his teammates, he feigned frustration at not being able to play Wednesday.
“I’m rested, man,” he said. “I’m ready to get back on the court. My Atlanta fans want to see me.”