Throughout LeBron James’ time with the Cleveland Cavaliers, especially during his second tenure, one of the most important parts of the regular season has been to be 100 percent healthy once the postseason tips off in April. With No. 23 donning the wine and gold, the Cavs have proven countless times that their regular season record and playoff seeding doesn’t really matter come April.
In 2014-15, they were the No. 2 seed in the East.1 In 2015-16, they were the No. 1 seed.2 In 2016-17, they were the No. 2 seed.3 The common denominator for all three years following James’ return to Cleveland? The Cavs have made the NBA Finals in all three, no matter how well they did in the regular season.
While a better seed and home-court advantage is important in the postseason, being 100 percent healthy stands alone atop the list of priorities heading into the start of the postseason each April. A healthy wine and gold squad led by James is not only the favorite in the East, but they will always have a shot to bring home the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy in June if they are as well.
James even acknowledged that following Wednesday night’s win over the Denver Nuggets to begin the Cavs’ six-game road trip.
“Listen, it doesn’t matter to me if I’m a six seed, a three seed, a two seed or an eight seed,” James told reporters, before a humble brag. “If I come into your building for a Game 1, it will be very challenging.”
He may have been bragging a bit, but it’s true. The guy has made seven consecutive appearances in the Finals. He knows that if he and his team are at full strength, that’s all that matters. The only thing that can stop him (and them) is an injury to either him or one of his teammates, at least in the East.
With that said, the Cavs are currently trying to work through plenty of injuries of their own this season, with the postseason looming in just five weeks. The first major injury came when All-Star forward (center?) Kevin Love broke his left hand at the end of January. With a timetable to return of six-to-eight weeks, he will be set to return to the court just a few weeks prior to the playoffs and will need that time not only to get his game back but to gel with the team, including the newest Cavaliers. Love was a big loss, but as long as he is 100 percent healthy for the postseason and gains some chemistry with the team, that’s all that matters.
Then came this past weekend. Cedi Osman suffered a left hip flexor strain in Friday night’s game and will miss two weeks, Rodney Hood missed Sunday night’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers due to a back strain, and Kyle Korver is dealing with a bruised right foot and was questionable for Sunday, a game he inevitably played in. You can also add Tristan Thompson to the list, who is dealing with an ankle injury. Although his starting spot is now likely Larry Nance Jr.’s, Thompson adds more depth and another body in the front court, something the Cavs badly need. Including Love, that’s five key rotation players who are currently dealing with injuries, and there could potentially be even more that we don’t even know about. Although all five should be ready for the postseason, the fact that the Cavs are dealing with this numbers of injuries is always worrisome, especially as we get closer to mid-April.
Those four injuries forced head coach Tyronn Lue to have just 11 active players, three of which have spent significant team with the Canton Charge, the Cavs’ G-League affiliate, this season. If Cleveland was 100 percent healthy, Ante Zizic, John Holland, and London Perrantes don’t play, let alone all three dress. Sunday night in Los Angeles, those three combined to play 45 minutes, including Zizic totaling 15 points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes. Add in that Jose Calderon played 21 minutes and that’s essentially 66 minutes that five players who will all but certainly not make the postseason rotation combined to play. It’s not a knock on any of those guys, it just is the truth. No wonder the Cavs didn’t do well. I mean, what else do you expect?
As long as the Cavs are 100 percent once mid-April rolls around, everything will be OK. It’s getting to that point that’s the scary part. It’s five weeks away, but plenty can happen in that span. Let’s just hope if something does happen, it’s nothing significant and won’t affect the wine and gold being fully healthy when it matters most.
The only way we can guarantee that the Cavs are at 100 percent come mid-April is by wrapping them in bubble wrap. Is that possible? I know it’s not, but at this point, I wish it was. I don’t care if the Cavaliers go winless the rest of the regular season. As long as they are at full strength once the postseason rolls around, they’re the best team in the East. The only reason they aren’t is if they’re without a key player. The King knows that. Cleveland knows that. The East knows that.
Please send all available bubble wrap to Quicken Loans Arena. Thank you.