LeBron James won’t cut any corners to prolong his NBA career.
After practicing for the first time since receiving an anti-inflammatory injection in his back, increasing the chances he’ll play in Tuesday’s season opener in Chicago, the Cleveland Cavaliers forward said he would never consider sitting out practices to preserve his body.
“I haven’t gotten to this point by cheating the game,” the four-time MVP said. “If I’m capable of practicing, I will practice. If I’m capable of playing, I’ll play. When I’m not, I’ll quit. The game has gave too much for me to ever cheat the game. That’s not how I was born. That’s not how I was taught.
“And when I’m not able to do it to my level, then I’ll quit. It’s that simple.”
James had been limited to shooting drills and conditioning since getting the shot in his back Oct. 13, a day after playing in his second exhibition game. But he took part in every aspect of Cleveland’s workout Sunday and said how his back responds will determine whether he plays against the Bulls.
“The real test will be how I feel tomorrow when I get up,” he said. “It was good to be back out there with the guys.”
The 30-year-old James received a similar shot early last season, when he was slowed by back pain and a strained left knee. He returned refreshed and led the Cavs to the NBA Finals, where he posted the best individual stats by any player in league history.
But as he enters his 13th season, there are some signs James is slowing down. He missed a career-high 13 games last season and he has logged nearly 44,000 minutes. James sat out five of Cleveland’s seven exhibition games during this preseason, and the team has discussed reducing his minutes further to keep him fresh for the playoffs — and maybe a run at his third title.
James laughed when he was asked if he felt “fresh” heading into the season.
“Nah,” he said. “My rookie year I was fresh. I feel good. I still got some more rehab to do to continue to get everything stronger and get my back right. The test will be tomorrow, coming after getting some contact, bumping and hitting screens, but I feel pretty good.”
James said he did not sustain any injury during the preseason and the injection and rest program had “been in the works.” And if has any setbacks and needs to sit down, James said he will if necessary.
The Cavs, who were ravaged by injuries during their postseason run to the finals, will begin this season at less than full strength. In addition to James’ back issues, All-Star guard Kyrie Irving remains sidelined after undergoing surgery to repair a broken kneecap.
Also, forwards Kevin Love (shoulder surgery), Anderson Varejao (Achilles injury), Tristan Thompson (contract holdout) and center Timofey Mozgov (knee surgery) are working their way back into shape, and guard Iman Shumpert (wrist surgery) will be out two more months.
James’ expectations are as high as ever. “We will be great,” he said. “How great is up to us.”
Rose up and running with the Bulls
Taj Gibson captured the importance of Derrick Rose to Fred Hoiberg’s offense and to Hoiberg constantly preaching for a faster pace with one comment following Sunday’s practice.
“It felt like we were really pushing it fast. But he took it to another level,” Gibson said. “Those minutes he played in Nebraska, he was just so fast.”
Rose reacted favorably to those 10 minutes Friday in the Bulls’ victory over the Mavericks in Lincoln, practicing fully Sunday and remaining on track to play in Tuesday’s season opener. Hoiberg said he hasn’t determined whether Rose will start or come off the bench against the Cavaliers and doesn’t know if Rose will be under a minutes restriction.
“We play three (games) in four days to start, so we’ll have to be a little more careful because he hasn’t had a ton of reps,” Hoiberg said.
Gibson said Rose, who will wear a mask to protect the fractured left orbital bone he suffered Sept. 29 and had surgically repaired the next day, was dominant Sunday.
“He’s in top form,” Gibson said. “We’ve been talking a lot of trash to him, throwing so many bodies at him, and he’s been responding well. We couldn’t stop him (Sunday).