The Cleveland Cavaliers have rebuilt their roster – twice – around LeBron James in the last year. The result was a berth in the NBA Finals and, possibly, the first championship in franchise history – and the first Cleveland sports championship in more than a half century.
Cleveland is excited. Cleveland is tense. Cleveland is restless.
“They can’t wait to get started,” NBA-TV and Bleacher Report analyst Jared Zwerling said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “They fly out to Golden State (Tuesday), so they’re going to get ready for Thursday’s Game 1.”
The Cavaliers, however, are not at full strength. Kevin Love (shoulder) has been out since the first round of the playoffs, and Kyrie Irving (knee) missed part of the Eastern Conference Finals. Whether Irving is in the starting lineup Thursday remains to be seen.
“Look, Kyrie Irving needs the rest,” Zwerling said. “In fact, I asked David Blatt (Monday) about Kyrie, and he (said) there’s no 100 percent determination he’s going to start even Game 1 right now. So that’s a big question mark.”
Irving, who missed Games 3 and 4 against Atlanta in the Eastern Conference Finals, started Game 4. He scored 16 points in 22 minutes. The Cavaliers are hoping for that – and more – from Irving in the Finals.
“With Steph Curry and the fast-paced offense the Warriors have, Kyrie is going to have to be really at 100 percent,” Zwerling said. “It’s going to be very challenging to guard a lot of the pick-and-rolls, and even offensively they’re going to need Kyrie to break down a defense and make plays. That’s a big thing for Game 1. Kyrie needs the rest obviously, but playing at ORACLE Arena – the Warriors only lost three games all season there, including the playoffs; they lost once to the Grizzlies at home – it’s a very tough place to play. The Cavaliers are going to have to bring everything they got on both ends of the court. The health is the most important thing for both teams. It’s the playoffs. A lot of guys are beat up. So that’s the most important thing.”
Zwerling has seen Irving in practice recently, but it was hard to get a sense of where he is physically.
“Like across the league, you only see the last 15 minutes of practice when guys are shooting free throws, so its very hard to see,” Zwerling said. “I was looking at his knees and his legs. He didn’t have any ice (on them). He (did have) some sleeves on him, but he was out there. And look, not every player is 100 percent right now. But still, Kyrie – because he’s a starting point guard, what he means to this offense, his versatility, everything he does – that’s a very important matchup. He’s going against Stephen Curry, the MVP, so that’s a very pivotal matchup. So the next coupe days will be very important. I saw him running around a little bit, but I didn’t see enough to really tell. David Blatt did say there’s no determination he’s going to start, so that tells you right there the guy’s not 100 percent yet.”