INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Kyrie Irving’s freakish knee injury in the NBA Finals last year taught him a valuable lesson about what it takes to get through a postseason.
“A lot of luck,” he said.
One year after medical misfortune sabotaged their title hopes, the Cavaliers, unlike the Golden State Warriors, are relatively healthy as they wait to find out if they’ll play Boston or Atlanta in the second round. Cleveland came out of its first-round sweep of Detroit in good shape, and the Cavs should be close to 100 percent when they open their series against either the Celtics of Hawks next week.
On Wednesday, the Cavs practiced for the first time since purging the youthful Pistons, who lacked the muscle and mettle to beat the defending Eastern Conference champions. Following their workout, LeBron James and the Cavs stretched as a group and Irving stayed on the floor afterward to get in some extra outside shooting and free throws.
Guard J.R. Smith, who made 17 3-pointers against the Pistons, did not practice after hurting his groin during the first half of Sunday’s Game 4 win but Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said the injury is not serious.
All of the Cavs should benefit from the eight-day break between games, but Lue said it’s vital to manage the time wisely.
“We played very well and now just having to try to gauge between the two of not doing too much but making sure we do enough,” said Lue, who made some sound decisions in his first playoff series.
And while they wait for the Hawks or Celtics, the Cavs, who had breaks of eight and nine days during the postseason last year, are keeping an eye on all the series still going on while counting their blessings for emerging from a physical, four-game series intact.
They weren’t so fortunate a year ago in the first round, when Kevin Love dislocated his left shoulder, an injury that became more devastating when Irving shattered his kneecap in Game 2 of the Finals.
Because he and the Cavs have experienced that postseason pain, Irving has empathy for the injuries sustained by Warriors superstar Stephen Curry and Los Angeles All-Star guard Chris Paul. Curry is expected to miss at least two weeks with a sprained right knee while Paul broke his right hand and could miss the rest of the postseason along with Clippers forward Blake Griffin, who is done because of a leg injury.
“I’m watching TV and I’m seeing CP come out and you could tell he’s really frustrated, and Steph goes down on a freakish play that could have happened to anyone,” Irving said. “Definitely you’ve got to empathize with those guys. But at the end of the day they still have other guys in that locker room that have to pick up the pieces and they have to figure it out. It’s just part of the playoffs.”
It’s the part that can’t be planned for, but the Cavs aren’t viewing those injuries as giving them any clearer path to a championship.
They know too much can happen.
But following a sometimes worrying and inconsistent regular season, the Cavs are meshing better than they have in months. Lue has been encouraged by the play of Cleveland’s Big 3 — James, Irving and Kevin Love — who combined to average 69.1 points against the Pistons, and how his team is communicating and bonding. The Cavs are connected.
“We’re coming together at the right time,” Lue said. “It’s great to feel that way. We mentioned it in a couple of the press conferences: we never hung our head. We fought through adversity. We were down three or four times in those games and guys just kept playing. We never wavered. We just stuck with it.
“That’s what you like to see. Everyone’s enjoying it in the moment. We’re in a great place right now.”
Lue also knows a rolled ankle or slip on a wet spot can change everything.
“The most important thing in the playoffs is staying healthy,” he said. “The level of intensity picks up. Guys are playing harder, competing harder. Guys are playing more minutes now. Injuries are always very important. If you can get through that first series, which was a tough and physical series for us, with no one being injured, it’s good for us.”