For the majority of the season, the main concern for the Cavaliers was their health, and well, it is not difficult to see why. Two of their best players, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, have histories of fairly serious injuries. Their best player, who is 32-years-old and has made six straight NBA Finals, has played 37.6 minutes per game, good enough for second most in the league.
On top of all that, several of Cleveland’s role players have been battling injuries for a hefty chunk of the season. Up until recently, however, it looked like the Cavaliers were trending in the right direction in the health department. With two starters battling injuries and multiple role players coming back from their own injuries, now is as good a time as any to assess the team’s health as it heads into the playoffs.
J.R. Smith, who came back from a thumb injury on March 9, has seemingly found his stroke, as he has shot 47.8 percent from deep in the six games prior to Monday’s loss. That is an encouraging sign for the Cavs because a hot Smith makes Cleveland all the more dangerous. Given the fact that Smith has played an average of 35 minutes per game over the last five games, it does not look like the Cavaliers have major concerns about his thumb at this point.
Forward Kevin Love also made his return to the lineup in March after missing 13 games from knee surgery. His on-court production has been up and down a bit—he shot 41.3 percent in March and is shooting 42.1 percent so far in April—but simply having Love on the floor regardless of production gives the Cavaliers another weapon that defenses must pay attention to.
In addition to the aforementioned Smith getting healthy, the Cavaliers’ other sharpshooter has shown signs of improvement lately as well. After missing 11 of 14 games due to a sore foot, Kyle Korver has played in five straight games and shot 52 percent from the floor and 50 percent from deep in those games.
Korver recently made the switch to the Kyrie 3s on the court, and they seem to be helping with his foot pain. He’s played an average of 23 minutes in the last five games.
Richard Jefferson also seems to have recovered from the knee tendinitis that forced him to sit out two straight games in March.
Kyrie Irving’s injury history is pretty well-documented at this point. However, of all the injuries the 25-yr-old suffered, only one was serious enough to cause any long term concern. Ever since Irving fractured his knee cap in the 2015 Finals, it has been an uphill battle. He posted his lowest point per game average since his rookie season (19.6 ppg) and a career-low 3-point shooting percentage (32.1 percent) last season after returning from his injury.
There had not been much talk about Irving’s knee for most of the season. That more than likely has to do with the fact that he averaged 25.2 points per game in the 2016 playoffs and has averaged a career-high 24.9 per game this season, but it seems that he put those numbers up despite his knee being a constant bother.
Back on March 16, Irving left the game against the Jazz in the third quarter and did not return for the entire fourth because of soreness in his surgically repaired knee. He then sat out the next game as a precaution. His knee flared up again in Friday’s loss, forcing him to briefly leave the game to have it checked out in the locker room. He returned to the game, but afterwards, he said that his knee felt “terrible” the day before.
Irving turned around and played 45 minutes in Sunday’s 126-125 overtime loss to Atlanta. Based off the fact that he has only missed one game due to his knee, it’s evident that Irving can play through the discomfort in his knee. The major concern with him, though, is that it could potentially get worse. In the playoffs, there will be minimal rest time unless the Cavs can take care of their opponents quickly, so it looks like Irving likely will not have much choice about playing through the pain.
Even though Irving can and has played on his ailing knee, this is still a less than ideal situation for Cleveland, as the Cavaliers certainly do not want their star point guard to have to grind through the early part of what could potentially deep playoff run.
Tristan Thompson spraining his thumb may come as a blessing in disguise in that it forced him to rest. Prior to the injury, Thompson did not look like his usual bouncy, relentlessly energetic self. He seemed sluggish on the court. Playing 447 consecutive games will wear anyone down, but given Thompson’s blue collar style of play, it was likely extremely draining.
Now, the only way that this ends up being a blessing is if he can return in time for the playoffs and is able to play effectively. He has missed the last four games, and it’s somewhat unclear as to how his thumb feels because the Cavs have been pretty hush with updates regarding Thompson. Aside from Irving’s knee, Thompson’s thumb is the Cavs’ biggest injury concern heading into the postseason.