Cavs' mainstays get second day of back-to-back off

Preseason plans calls for resting players in preparation for season's grind

Steve Aschburner

Steve Aschburner

Kay Felder, DeAndre Liggins, Jordan McRae, Jonathan Holmes and Cory Jefferson … ladies and gentlemen, your NBA defending champions, the 2016-17 Cleveland Cavaliers.

Sort of. Kind of. There were a bunch of guys wearing Cavs road unis, anyway.

On the heels of their preseason home loss Thursday night against Toronto, the Cavaliers traveled light for the tail end of their back-to-back games. As in, no LeBron James for Cleveland’s game against the Bulls at United Center Friday.

No Kyrie Irving, either. No Kevin Love. No Tristan Thompson. No Iman Shumpert.

Wait, there was more: No Channing Frye. No Mike Dunleavy. No Chris (Birdman) Andersen. And though Richard Jefferson made the short flight from Cleveland, he did so only to get in some individual work and was not scheduled to play.

It was a designated day of rest for what figures to be the Cavs’ regular rotation. And it is the preseason, when fans probably would be wise to assume random absences of notable players, whether they’re hurt or not. But with the Bulls selling approximately 20,000 tickets at big-league prices for the game, it seemed more like a baseball “B” squad sent to an out-of-town spring training site than a representative NBA offering.

“We’ve got an older team. Preseason. And these were the games we picked out,” coach Tyronn Lue said when asked for his justification in resting so many players from the same game.

One media person asked Lue if he felt it was an appropriate statement to make to fans in a road city.

“I don’t know,” the coach said.

Did Kobe Bryant sit out a lot of back-to-back preseason games? It seemed a rhetorical question, because giving healthy players nights off is a relatively recent phenomenon and many earlier stars – including Michael Jordan and presumably Bryant – made a point not to skip games, often citing ticket-buying fans.

Lue, who played with Bryant for three seasons in Los Angeles, didn’t have an answer for that. “I’d have to go back and look at it,” he said.

The Cavs coach added: “It’s just time right now for our guys to sit out. This is the game we picked. I wish I could have added one more [player].”

Because Cleveland has 19 players on its preseason roster, it still had 10 players available to dress and play Friday.

With the Cleveland Indians at home Friday night for Game 1 of their American League Championship Series against the Toronto Blue Jays, Lue was asked if he expected to see or hear of Cavs players showing up at Progressive Field for the ball game.

“No,” Lue said. “This is your off day. But guys are going to sit home and watch our game tonight, and be attentive to what we’re doing tonight.”

Jefferson, a 15-year veteran, shrugged off the unusual circumstance – even in the preseason – of a team leaving eight of its top players at home on a road game.

“You probably shouldn’t schedule back-to-backs during the preseason,” he said. “It’s always disappointing whenever you don’t get to see group of people that you want. But we don’t do the scheduling.

“The Cleveland fans would much rather have a rested LeBron during the regular season than for him to go and try to put in a show in every city that he goes to. I think that’s unrealistic. As a team, you only have a certain amount of days but yeah, when it comes to the scheduling, that’s probably not the most advantageous schedule for us.”

The Bulls, meanwhile, were playing the first of three games in four nights, facing a Saturday night game in Milwaukee and a home game against Charlotte Monday. All-Star forward Jimmy Butler, though healthy, was held out Friday and will not play at Milwaukee either. Dwyane Wade, like Butler an alum of Marquette University in Milwaukee, also won’t travel to face the Bucks.


Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.