INDEPENDENCE — With “Elbowgate” in its third day, Cavaliers small forward LeBron James promised to be on the floor Saturday in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Boston Celtics.
“I will be ready for Game 1 and I will be a productive player,” James said Thursday following a light practice at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “I definitely want to go into the game 100 percent, but if I’m not, I’ll be ready to play.”
Forced to shoot a free throw left-handed in the closing seconds of Game 5 Tuesday against Chicago because of painful numbness in his right elbow, James underwent his second MRI in three days Wednesday at Cleveland Clinic Sports Health.
The Cavaliers released a statement prior to practice Thursday that said James has a strain of the right elbow and a bone bruise of his olecranon. The olecranon is a large, thick, curved bone that runs from the top of the forearm to the triceps, with part of it being located on the bottom of the elbow.
James, who also had X-rays performed by team physician Dr. Richard Parker and Dr. Mark Schickendantz, will undergo daily treatments and evaluation, and another MRI will be performed next week.
The Cavaliers said James is not expected to miss any playing time, but whether the league’s reigning MVP — and heavy favorite to repeat — will be able to do everything he normally does is uncertain.
“You’ve got to have some type of concern, of course,” said James, who averaged 31.8 points, 9.2 rebounds and 8.2 assists in the first round of the playoffs and 36.5, 6.5 and 8.3 in four regular-season meetings with the Celtics. “This is the biggest point of the season.
“It is what it is,” he added. “I’ve been with the docs. We’re going to stay on top of it and be ready.”
James took only short right-handed floaters and left-handed shots in the portion of practice open to the media. He was held out of the one contact drill the Cavaliers had and was not wearing the protective sleeve he donned in Games 4 and 5 against Chicago.
“If I am limited during the game time, I’ll be smart about it,” James said. “That’s what I was able to do in Game 5. I was very limited on shooting long-range shots in the fourth quarter, so I started going to the hole.”
Asked if he could have taken 3-pointers on Thursday, James said he didn’t know because he didn’t take any. Asked if he could have nerve damage, he also said he didn’t know.
The 25-year-old did say the pain and numbness he experienced late in Game 5 were no worse than any of the other situations he’s endured over the past several weeks.
“It’s been that type of level the whole time,” he said. “It hasn’t gotten worse, but it’s been that type of level when it does react.”
The fact the recurrence of the numbness has increased in recent games is consistent with the theory that James could have an unstable ulnar nerve, which Dr. David H. Hildreth, an elbow specialist at the Richmond Bone & Joint Clinic in Houston, said does not show up on an MRI.
James added that the numbness he experienced in Games 4 and 5 did not come as a result of being hit on the elbow or falling on it, which is also consistent with having damage to the ulnar nerve. In a phone interview Wednesday, Hildreth said that is usually the cause of tingling in the elbow.
“You could hit on it,” James said. “I wouldn’t let you, but if you wanted to, you could hit on it and it wouldn’t hurt.”
On the flip side, James said doctors have assured him surgery won’t be needed and he can’t make the injury worse by playing.
An unstable ulnar nerve, according to Hildreth, usually becomes more irritated — and the numbness more frequent — if the activity that is causing the problem is continually repeated, which can result in surgery being needed. That activity usually involves flexing and then extending the arm, which is what James does every time he shoots or dribbles a basketball.
“The best thing about it is there’s no structural damage,” James said. “It’s nothing that needs surgery. The docs have given me all clearance that I can’t hurt it worse, that I can go out and play.”
Cavaliers coach Mike Brown was unsure how much James would practice today, with James saying “rest, rehab and making sure the forearm stays strong” are his primary concerns prior to Game 1.
Of course, there is also the possibility the whole “Elbowgate” affair has been overblown and James will come out Saturday and be his normal, dominating self. But the Celtics, as physical a team as there is in the league, will certainly test the 6-foot-8, 250-pounder’s mettle.
“They’re a physical team anyway,” Brown said. “Whether the elbow (injury) is there or not, their mind-set is to be physical coming into this series.”
James was more succinct: “I’ll be ready for Saturday.”
- Who: Cleveland vs. Boston
- What: Game 1, Eastern Conference semifinals
- When: Saturday, 6:30, 7:30 or 8 p.m.
- Where: The Q
- TV/radio: TNT; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.