Cavs return to practice, Kevin Love still slowed by back
INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) LeBron James worked up a healthy sweat after practice, staying longer to go over plays with Cleveland's coaches before doing some post-up drills.
He knows what's ahead.
The calendar has flipped to April, and if the NBA standings don't change, James will face a first-round playoff series against the Miami Heat, the team he led to two titles and four straight finals before leaving last summer to go home.
LeBron vs. the Heat. Oh, the TV ratings.
James has never faced close friend Dwyane Wade in the postseason, but the possibility has got him thinking - and maybe switching into postseason mode a little earlier.
''Just to go against a champion, a competitor like himself and that franchise,'' James said of the chance for a Cavs-Heat matchup. ''Obviously I'm not there yet, but I am kind of in playoff mentality.''
Down to their final seven games of the regular season, the Cavs returned from a two-day break Wednesday to prepare for Thursday's home game against the Heat, still clinging to the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference.
James said he and his teammates were ''really sharp'' during practice, and the four-time MVP said the short retreat was good for body and soul.
''It gave people a mental break, I believe,'' James said. ''It made you miss the game a little bit. So, it's fun to get back there on the court.''
The Cavs were worn out. After playing 15 of the last 20 games on the road, coach David Blatt gave his players some down time following a lackluster one-point win over lowly Philadelphia on Sunday. Blatt felt it was the perfect respite with important games this week against Miami and Chicago.
''We haven't had that luxury for a long time and hopefully it helped the guys,'' Blatt said.
Kevin Love believes it did his balky back some good. Love has had a back issue most of the season and he had to leave Sunday's game after being hit with an elbow. Following practice, Love reported that his back ''feels good. Two days helped.''
Love also said he sweat so much during practice that he had to run to the locker room and change. He didn't take part in the any contact, and Blatt said Love is a game-time decision against the Heat.
Blatt reported that Iman Shumpert (jammed ankle) was a full participant and is expected to face Miami.
Despite the current standings and the Cavs losing twice to Miami this season, Blatt said he isn't treating Thursday's game any differently.
''Still a lot of things that can happen of course on both ends,'' he said, ''so I don't see any particular special preparation for that game.''
James appeared to have a different approach. When the media was allowed into the gym, James and Cleveland's assistant coaches were on one court talking through some offensive sets. As James pointed to spots on the floor, Blatt, who was named Eastern Conference coach of the month for March, joined the group.
Later, James explained his actions.
''It's just I have a feel for the game,'' he said. ''I know what helps our team and we got great minds. Our coaching staff is great. I thank them that they allow me to give some input on what I think we should do at times, but ultimately it's their call.''
While much has been made of the relationship between James and Blatt, now on the cusp of his first NBA postseason, both seem to be on the same page as the Cavs chase a championship. At times, James has taken over the huddle or called plays on the floor, and Blatt said that's fine.
''That's obviously not an all-the-time case, but it's going to happen during the course of a game, sure,'' he said.
As for getting rest over the final weeks, James said he'll wait until after the Cavs play the Heat and Bulls.
''My body can always use some games (off),'' he said. ''But at the same time, we're a team that's coming together at the right time and you want to try to kind of keep the rhythm as well.''