When Can The Cavs Start Resting Stars?
With only 25 games remaining, it’s hard not to pay attention to the standings as Toronto is within two games of Cleveland for the top spot in the East. However, Cavs fans should be paying less attention to the standings in the Eastern Conference, and more about the minutes being played by star players such as LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving. As the regular season is coming to a close, and playoffs just over a month away, it is now more important than ever, that the big three (and other major contributors) are fresh and rested for the playoffs. If this means sacrificing a game or two, or even the top seed in the Eastern Conference the Cavs should start considering resting their players. Additionally, while the Cavs would like to have home court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference, they are not afraid to play the Raptors in Toronto, and would likely still be favored in a series. The Cavs are extremely unlikely at this point in the season, to catch the Golden State Warriors or San Antonio Spurs in the overall standings, for home court in the finals. The Cavs hold a tiebreaker against Oklahoma City Thunder, should they meet in the Finals.
The topic of rest has become even more of a discussion for the Cavs after James admitted he was “fatigued”, after a loss against the Detroit Pistons last week. This came a night after James played 38 minutes in a win against the Thunder the afternoon before. When James checked out in the fourth quarter with 8:30 minutes remaining and the Cavs in command with a 103-81 lead, many suspected his afternoon was over. Perhaps the most head-scratching move of the game was when James reentered with 5:09 left in the game and the Cavs holding a 19-point lead (not to mention Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were subbed out as James was checking in).
According to Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com, coach Tryonn Lue considered resting James against the Pistons, but decided against it, and later came to regret his decision.
“I should have went with my gut, but I didn’t do it,” Lue said.
James is on-board with his coach’s plans.
“There’s nothing to talk about, I mean, obviously, if coach Lue wanted to sit me I’ll follow his orders, but for me I’m available every night, unless I’m injured. I’ve been hurt all year, but unless you injured, you play, so I’m OK with that.”
The five most shocking words in that statement are “I’ve been hurt all year,” if Lue knew this, playing James an extra three minutes a game before he decided against resting James should be concerning to fans.
There is no reason for having James on the court more than he needs to be, but also, deciding to play a star player who seems fatigued. To the extent James is “hurt” is unknown. The NBA is a long season, and almost every player in the league deals with nagging injuries or general soreness at this point in the season. It is expected as almost 70% the schedule has been played, not to mention practices, and traveling to add. So when James claims he is “hurt” that is likely what he is referring.
Now the question becomes when do the Cavs start to rest their players? The team plays eight more sets of back-to-backs, starting this Sunday and Monday at Washington and home for Indiana, so it should be expected those are the main nights in which a player(s) will be rested. A good time to start resting players may come around mid-March against the Nuggets, and use the next five games (vs. MIL, at NYK, at BKN, vs. HOU, and vs. HOU) to rotate who sits.
All of these teams are at or below .500 as well. This gives the Cavs a 12-day window to rest key players for almost two weeks, after they play in Miami. Furthermore, out of the remaining 26 games, 12 of those are against teams under the .500 mark, which can give the Cavs options to choose spot games in which to rest players. It is essential the Cavs rest their starting five as well as Matthew Dellavedova, Iman Shumpert, and even Timofey Mozgov. They may not seem like players who will need it, but they are among the Cavs best defenders, and could see heavy minutes come playoff time. The Cavs are deep enough to rest multiple players and still remain competitive each game, which, in turn, will give players such as Mo Williams, Richard Jefferson, and James Jones some extra burn to stay warm should they be called upon in the playoffs.