THE Cleveland Cavaliers will head to the final battle for the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings without its main weapon.
After losing the top seed with their third straight loss on Monday (Tuesday, Manila time), Cavaliers general manager David Griffin told ESPN that LeBron James, who sat out the 124-121 OT loss to Miami Heat, will miss their regular season finale at home against the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday to recover from a calf strain.
This is the 10th straight year James will miss his team’s last game of the regular season.
The Cavs, who also sat out Kyrie Irving (knee tendinitis) and Tristan Thompson (sprained thumb) against the Heat, fell a game behind the Boston Celtics for first place in the East. But with the reigning champs owning the tiebreaker over Boston, Cleveland can still end up on top with a win over Toronto and a Celtics loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in their own finale.
Three days ago, Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue assured James and Irving will not sit out until the top seed in the East is secured. But with the pair of losses to Atlanta and the injuries piling up, Lue has had a change of heart.
“The most important thing for us is getting those guys some rest. They’ve been carrying the load all season,” said Lue, who shared that Irving might suit up against the Raptors.
“It’s just the right thing to do. For us going forward, if we’re going to make a long run and deep into these playoffs, those guys being healthy is the most important thing,” he added.
The Cavs, though, are 0-7 without James in the lineup this season. And should they lose while the Chicago Bulls end up seventh after the final regular season playdate, Cleveland faces a team it has not beaten in four games this year.
Still, Lue remained unfazed as the priority is on keeping his players fresh for the postseason.
"Whether we're the 1-seed or the 2-seed, it's going to be tough this year. We know that. Whether it's first seed or second seed, it's going to be a tough uphill battle for us,” he said.
“If we get our rest and we're healthy going into the playoffs, I like exactly who we are and what we can do. That's what's most important to me right now,” added Lue.