Cavs bracing for LeBron's absence

ByDave McMenamin ESPN logo
Friday, January 2, 2015

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt said his team will have to scale back its playbook in the early going as it prepares for life without LeBron James for the next two weeks as the star forward recovers from strains to his lower back and left knee.

"When he doesn't play you're missing 25 points out of the gate," Blatt said before the Cavs' shootaround Friday morning in advance of their game against the Charlotte Hornets. "But we haven't had a whole lot of time to really make great changes. Right now, what we're doing is eliminating things, we're not adding things.

"But we will when we can, because you have to play a little bit differently. LeBron, it's not only offensively, he gives you so much all around in your game. You got to make up for that in different ways. ... We got to look for answers and we got to make up for a lot of what we're missing. But right now, we want to go out, we want to play hard, play to win and we want to get LeBron back healthy."

The first two players the Cavs will look to feature more are Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, who have dealt with injury woes of their own. Irving missed two games because of a bone bruise in his left knee but came back to the lineup to average 30.0 points, 6.5 assists and 5.5 rebounds in Cleveland's last two games without James. Love sat out the Cavs' 96-80 loss to Milwaukee on Wednesday because of back spasms but said Friday he plans to play against the Hornets.

"I think you got to look at this as a glass half full," said Love, who is averaging 16.7 points on 42.7 percent shooting for Cleveland after putting up 26.1 points on a 45.7 percent clip last season with Minnesota. "I know that our best player is out, our leader is out, but it's a chance, an opportunity for other players to step up. Myself included."

Irving said he now has to "choose my spots and when to attack and when to get other guys involved and just have the same balance that I've been trying to figure out for my last four years."

Love is at the top of his list of targets to pass to.

"For us right now, we just have to keep feeding him," Irving said. "We want him to shoot. We want him to continue to shoot. He's a great shooter and he's a great scorer. We both need to pick it up until Bron gets back and we need to hold the fort down as best we can and go out there and compete."

James being out of the lineup comes at a rough time for the Cavs, losers of four of their past five games, but Blatt said the four-time MVP had been dealing with his back and knee issues for a while and they reached a point where something had to be done about it.

"Honestly, LeBron hasn't felt 100 percent for some time and he's been toughing it out and giving it everything he has despite some discomfort. Not overwhelming discomfort, but some discomfort," Blatt said. "It was exacerbated during the Miami game (when James aggravated his knee from jumping over a row of courtside seats) and from that point forward obviously we looked at this thing and decided together with him that the best thing for us to do was to try to attack this problem straight on and allow him to heal completely. Even at the expense, obviously, of him being down for more than a few days and get him back to where he feels 100 percent and go from there."

Even though the decision to sit James wasn't made until he was evaluated by team doctors this week with a series of tests, including an MRI, Blatt said the injury report wasn't surprising.

On Monday, James posted a picture of himself rehabbing on Instagram:

Hate being away for the teammates(really sucks!!) but it's time I listen to my body, my trainer @mikemancias1, the team and the docs finally, get healthy and back to myself! Day 2 of rehab. #NoFunWithoutHoopsandHomies #RehabStinks #StriveForGreatness

A photo posted by LeBron James (@kingjames) on

Jan 1, 2015 at 10:12am PST"We treat him every day, so we know that he's been experiencing some discomfort," Blatt said. "There are things that a player, he plays with. Hell, I can barely get out of bed in the morning after playing professionally for 12-13 years. You're going to have aches and pains, but this became an issue where he really just couldn't play comfortably and a lot of things were said unfairly, I think. The guy's been playing with a lot of pain, or some pain, and we just decided, enough. Let's shut him down, let's take care of the problem, let's get him back to feeling 100 percent and start from there when he's ready to go again."

James did not travel with the team to Charlotte and Blatt said it was unclear if James would be joining the Cavs while he undergoes his rehabilitation in the future. Seven of the Cavs' nine games in the next two weeks are on the road.

Shawn Marion, who missed the past two games with a sore left ankle, will return against the Hornets and will likely replace James in the starting lineup at small forward.

"We still got to play together and we got to do the little things to help make each other that much better and just go out there and give ourselves a chance," Marion said. "Just compete and play hard. When you're doing that and you're playing together, good things always happen."

Blatt was asked if he could find any positives in the Cavs' situation.

"I don't see much positive with LeBron not playing, on one hand," Blatt said. "On the other hand, the silver lining is that other guys step up, take more responsibility, take on a bigger role in the meantime and gain confidence, and when he comes back they're in a better place."

Until then, the Cavs will have a 6-foot-8, 250-pound void, one that was producing 25.2 points, 7.6 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game, in the lineup.

"There's certain things that LeBron does in the open court with his ability to create his shot for himself and for others, with his ability to post up," Blatt said. "Certainly his rebounding and his great, great all-around-the-court vision. I don't know how you quantify that in numbers. You all know what a great, great player he is and how much he gives to every team that he plays for. So, we're going to miss him. On the other hand, we're going to have to step up with others."

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