As the Cleveland Cavaliers try to hold on to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race, they continue to get bad news.
Following the returns of J.R. Smith and Kevin Love in recent games, the Cavs are now dealing with another injury to a superstar in the wake of Friday night’s 112-105 victory over the Charlotte Hornets.
LeBron James took a hard foul from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist late in the third quarter and hit the deck, suffering a scratched cornea in the process. That eye injury might keep him out of Saturday’s important game against the red-hot Washington Wizards.
James remained in the game after the injury, but guard Kyrie Irving told ESPN.com after the game that he doesn’t appreciate some of the hard hits LeBron takes on a nightly basis:
“Well, I don’t like anybody hitting my brother like that,” Irving said of the blows James took. “But it’s gearing up for playoff basketball. Some hits are definitely coming, some plays, some fights as you can see. So we just got to protect ourselves and protect our brothers if something happens like that. Obviously no one wants to get suspended but if it goes too far, as men we’ve got to protect our brothers.”
Irving’s comments will likely draw attention from the NBA offices. He’ll have to be careful with how he comes to James’s defense from this point forward if he wants to avoid a suspension down the stretch.
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue also didn’t like seeing his star forward fouled so often, but acknowledged that the Cavs are facing desperate teams that are fighting for their playoff lives:
“It was a physical game,” he said. “That’s the most I’ve ever seen LeBron hit the deck. He hit the deck a few times. It was a physical game. With these last 11 games, I think we’re playing nine teams fighting for the playoffs or in the playoffs. This will be a good test for us going into the playoff stretch. It’s good for us.”
Playoff basketball or not, the Cavaliers can’t afford to lose James for any extended period of time. Without LeBron, they’re simply a mediocre team that probably wouldn’t be favored to advance to the NBA Finals.
If LeBron can’t suit up for Saturday night’s game against the Wizards, the Cavs could be in trouble. At 47-24, they only lead the Boston Celtics by one game for the No. 1 seed and only lead Washington by 3.5 games. Any setback could make things harder for Cleveland when the playoffs begin.