INDEPENDENCE — After going through a full contact practice and before shooting a handful of long 3-pointers as he departed Cleveland Clinic Courts, LeBron James said what Cavaliers fans have been hoping to hear.
“I feel great,” the 6-foot-8, 250-pound small forward proclaimed Thursday. Playing with what the Cavaliers are calling a strained and bruised right elbow, James took just three jumpers in the first half as Cleveland split the first two games of its best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Boston Celtics, but the 25-year-old vowed to be much more assertive in Game 3 tonight at 7 at TD Garden.
“I can’t go a whole first half with only taking five shot attempts and shooting 40 percent from the field,” James said of his performance in a 104-86 loss in Game 2. “I definitely need to be more aggressive.”
Said coach Mike Brown: “He’s got a great feel for the game. If he gets more shots early on, great. One way or another, we know he’s going to be more aggressive as that game goes along.”
James, the two-time reigning league MVP who Thursday earned first-team All-NBA honors for the third straight season and fourth time overall, certainly looked and sounded ready to take on the role of aggressor in Game 3.
The Akron native went through all parts of a contact practice, then participated in normal shooting drills in the portion of the workout that was open to the media. After speaking with reporters, he launched a number of very long 3-point attempts before exiting the court.
“It’s felt great the last few days,” said James, who wore only a short black sleeve on his elbow. “Hopefully, it continues to feel good (in Game 3).”
Cleveland players, who have maintained throughout the week they aren’t overly concerned with James’ elbow, fully expect him to rise to the occasion tonight.
“He’s a warrior,” center Shaquille O’Neal said. “He hasn’t really mentioned much about (the elbow). You guys talk more about it than he does. He’s going to play through it. His elbow has nothing to do with our team defense.
“I still see the greatest player in the game,” O’Neal added. “We, as the others, have to help him out.” And James, as the superstar, has to lead the way, whether he’s 100 percent, 90 percent or 80 percent.
With an unusually long threeday break between games thanks to the Boston Bruins’ presence in the NHL playoffs, James appeared to be feeling better than he has at any point since the end of Cleveland’s first-round series with Chicago.
A team spokesperson said a planned follow-up MRI this week was canceled because it was “deemed unnecessary.” The Cavaliers also clarified that James has had just one MRI since the start of the postseason, though a poorly written team press release led many to believe he had two in three days last week.
“According to the TV, I’ve had about 50,” a jovial James said, later adding, “I’ve only had one. I’ve only needed one.”
James has been receiving daily elbow massages and icing the injury, but time off helped the most.
“Only rest helps it,” he said. “The last couple of days, I’ve had an opportunity to get some rest.
“It felt good today,” he added. “It didn’t flare up at all.”
While it certainly would not be shocking to see James make a bigger attempt to get himself going early in Game 3, particularly by mixing in a few jumpers with his attacks to the hole, don’t expect the seventh-year pro to resume throwing down his vicious slam dunks any time soon.
“I want to be smart about things,” he said. “I don’t want to go up there and be doing all those crazy dunks on the rim where I can aggravate my elbow. At the end of the day, two points is two points.”
Though he denied it in his postgame interview session Monday, it appeared James was taking a similar approach by shooting limited jumpers early in Games 1 and 2.
Thursday, he changed tunes just a bit, saying he needed to be more aggressive but adding it’s virtually impossible not to think about the injury when it does flare up.
“If it’s hurting throughout the game, there’s no way it can stay off your mind if it’s hurting,” James said. “You want to be conscious about it, but at the same time I’ve got to find a way to get through it and help the team. There’s no way you cannot think about it.
“It is what it is,” he added. “I’ve got to play with it.”
In a perfect world, James would like to be 100 percent for the playoffs. Yet he also knows that may not be the case for the duration of the playoffs, so he’s got to deal with the bad timing of one of his few injuries as a pro and make the best of the situation.
“It sucks, honestly,” James said. “For the most part of the whole season, I was healthy enough that if I had to play all 82 games, I would have.
“To have an injury at this part of the season where it may slow you up, it sucks, but it’s part of the game. Nobody feels sorry for me.”
CLEVELAND 1, BOSTON 1
- Saturday, May 1: Cleveland 101, Boston 93
- Monday, May 3: Boston 104, Cleveland 86
- Today: Cleveland at Boston, 7 p.m.
- Sunday: Cleveland at Boston, 3:30 p.m.
- Tuesday: Boston at Cleveland, 8 p.m.
- x-Thursday, May 13: Cleveland at Boston, TBD
- x-Sunday, May 16: Boston at Cleveland, 3:30 p.m.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.