The Cavs closed out the Bulls with ease in Game 6 this past Thursday. Almost as importantly, the banged up Cleveland roster won’t have to play Game 1 against the Hawks in Atlanta until Wednesday night. But despite having nearly a week off between games, Kyrie Irving is still considered questionable for Game 1 already.
Irving is suffering from multiple injuries, and it showed against the Bulls. He missed practice on Saturday for a re-evaluation of his most recent left knee injury — which he injured in Game 6. Fortunately for the Cavs, Matthew Dellavedova took over for Kyrie and dropped 19 points in the win, filling in seamlessly for just a single game. Who’s to say he can’t give the Cavs that kind of production and buy Irving some more time?
Clearly there’s no time to mess around in the Eastern Conference Finals … but might it be a better strategy to rest Kyrie?
Irving was reduced (at least primarily) to a spot up shooter role in the matchup against the Bulls, averaging just 17.5 PPG. That’s something the Cavs have plenty of in J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Mike Miller, Dellavedova and even James Jones. In other words, Cleveland has plenty of guys to fill in the roles of surrounding LeBron with shooters.
Kyrie could play through it like John Wall did for the Wizards (a respectable move), but Washington NEEDED Wall in order to have a chance to succeed. Cleveland needs Irving to succeed too, just maybe not against the Hawks. Irving would be crucial in an NBA Finals matchup against which ever team finds their way out of the west.
As long as LeBron is on the court, he needs defense, rebounding and shooting around him in order to beat a team like the Hawks — probably an easier task than eliminating the Bulls. He doesn’t necessarily need a player like Kyrie hobbling around. But Irving would be a huge factor in a series against Golden State after some rest, for example.
I’m not suggesting Kyrie sit the entire series, I’m suggesting he sits until he’s healthy, or Cleveland reaches the NBA Finals (unless they need him back because of an emergency along the lines of an 0-2 deficit vs. Atlanta).
I think the winner of the Western Conference is going to win the championship. But I sure would give Cleveland much better odds if they were coming into that series with a healthy Kyrie Irving. In all likelihood, Kyrie will keep playing through injury, but getting additional rest is something I feel you have to consider if you’re the Cavs. High risk, high reward.
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