The Cleveland Cavaliers are preparing for a Wednesday night bout with the Denver Nuggets. They’re fresh off a (unnecessarily) dramatic win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Despite this, we’re still talking about a game they played Saturday, a contest which didn’t involve any of their best players.
This, of course, is why last weekend’s blowout loss to the Los Angeles Clippers is still a hot topic in the NBA. Even though the game – in which coach Tyronn Lue rested Kyrie Irving, LeBron James and Kevin Love – took place over three days ago, people are still dropping takes left and right about teams’ rights to rest star players.
Since practically everyone in the sports world has felt the need to convey their opinions about the matter, I figure I might as well jump in, too. As a spoiler alert, my thoughts on the Cavs giving star players a breather haven’t changed much since I last talked about it.
Even though the anger and hand-wringing about what became an absolutely unwatchable basketball game is completely understandable, I still find myself standing behind Lue’s call to rest James, Irving and Love Saturday night.
To be honest, I’m quite astounded this is still a hot topic considering the time which has passed since Cleveland’s game against the Clippers. This is especially so when you consider the Cavs aren’t the only team to rest quality players in marquee matchups. Both the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs have given their stars a breather on nights when many were watching.
That said, the Cavaliers are the most recent offender, so the current conversation is centered around them.
I have to again note that I completely get the fan’s perspective here. I’m especially sympathetic to those who paid good money to see what they thought was a chance to see Cleveland’s Big Three live.
I also understand the Cavs announcing the roster updates as late as they did likely annoyed a lot of people, from those attending the game to those who begrudgingly had to broadcast it.
That said, not only do I get Lue’s perspective as well, I also still support it.
Remember, only James was technically given a night off to get some rest. Love is coming off knee surgery, and had just returned the game before Saturday’s. The team has him on a minutes restriction in order to ensure he’s at full strength come playoff time. Meanwhile, Irving has been experiencing soreness in his knee, the same one he severely injured in the 2015 Finals. The pain resulted in his pulling himself out of last Thursday’s game against the Utah Jazz.
As you can see, this wasn’t a case of Lue just resting key players on a whim. The Cavs have battled injury issues all season, and haven’t played at full strength since December. Any time another ailment pops up, Lue has to address it the way he sees fit.
Sure, it results in a putrid product. I wouldn’t blame a single person if they decided to change the channel once they heard Saturday’s game was essentially a showcase for Cleveland’s bench unit. Those who did watch probably shared the same sentiment as ABC’s TV commentators, who spent the night berating the Cavs for giving their stars the night off.
As I said in December, though, Lue and the rest of the team shouldn’t even remotely factor fan opinion and network ratings into their game plan.
The Cavs, like the rest of the NBA, are heading into the final stretch of the regular season. Ensuring James, Irving and Love are healthy for the playoffs is as high a priority as ever. Making things difficult is the increased travel and string of back-to-backs Cleveland is experiencing in this month’s schedule.
As a result, Lue has to do what he can to make sure he has a full roster come postseason. If it means giving his star players a night off, regardless of the matchup, then so be it.
For those still upset about the Cavs and other clubs handing out poorly timed breathers, you should know this was probably not the last time such a thing occurs. If, for example, James is dealing with some minor injuries and a back-to-back is on the horizon, his health is far more important than ensuring the broadcast of the game gets plenty of views. If this rankles the NBA higher-ups, then it’s time to take a look at what can be done to the regular season schedule to prevent the need for individual nights off.
At the end of the day, though, a coach has the final call on whether or not his players take the court, not the league or the networks. Had one of Cleveland’s stars played Saturday and gotten hurt, it’s tough to believe the team would find solace in the fact the game pulled in great ratings.