NEW ORLEANS (AP) — LeBron James refused let his sore left knee sideline him more than one game and returned to the starting lineup Friday night against the Pelicans.
Stressing that he passed all the “necessary tests” during pregame warm-ups, James added, “I don’t like to miss any games. … but more than anything I hate not being out there for my teammates.”
Kyrie Irving also was in the lineup in New Orleans despite injuring his left knee a night earlier in Oklahoma City. With James sitting out the entire game against the Thunder and Irving out for part of it, Cleveland had its eight-game winning streak snapped in a 103-94 loss.
James said his knee began hurting in the second half of Cleveland’s victory over Toronto on Tuesday night, but he could not recall if the injury occurred on a specific play, even after reviewing game video.
Cavaliers coach David Blatt said the fact that James could not figure out when the injury occurred left the club “pretty confident it’s not an injury of a serious nature.”
James said the swelling worsened before he decided to sit out Thursday night’s game in Oklahoma City.
“I didn’t feel like I could give my game to my teammates like I’m capable of doing,” James said. “If I’m out, there’s a real reason why I’m out.”
James, who turns 30 on Dec. 30, said he isn’t terribly interested in reducing his minutes or sitting out periodically simply for purposes of rest as long as he still feels capable of playing through pain,
“I’ve got so much love for the game I try to give everything I can to it where I can. So when I’m done and I can’t play the game no more, I’ll wish I got those games back,” James said. “But I do got to be smart sometimes rounding 30 in a couple days, so we’ll see.”
Blatt also wavered when asked about the prospect of reducing playing time for James, noting that his 38 minutes per game so far this season is already more than a minute below his career average.
“I think we’re doing pretty good in that area. Obviously we’d like to see him on the court for as many valuable minutes as possible each game, and where and when it’s possible to give him more rest, we will,” Blatt said. “But right now I just want to see him get healthy as quickly as possible. That’s the major thing.”
Irving was helped off the court Thursday night after knocking knees with Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, but returned to the game.
“I hurt a little bit this morning,” said Irving, who before the game spent several minutes sitting on the floor in front of his locker, wearing inflatable compression casts designed to improve blood circulation in one’s legs.
“Obviously you never know what can happen in a day or so, but for me, even regardless of it hurting or not, I was going to try to give it a go,” Irving said.
Irving added that losing the night before had little to do with his or James’ motivation to return in New Orleans. They just wanted to play.
“We don’t want to think too deeply about being worried if one person doesn’t play or not. That’s just part of the game,” Irving said. “But as competitors, we obviously want to play for our teammates and be out there. It’s not a sense of urgency or anything like that. We want to play. We want to play the game we love and that’s as simple as it gets.”
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