LeBron James passes Shaquille O’Neal for 7th on NBA’s career scoring list

Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James has passed Shaquille O’Neal for seventh place on the NBA’s career scoring list.

James came into Thursday’s game against the Chicago Bulls with 28,573 points in 14 seasons with Cleveland and Miami.

He needed 23 points to tie O’Neal and did that when he scored on a layup with 7:23 left in the game. James took sole possession of seventh place when he hit the first free throw after getting fouled on a 3-point attempt with 4:28 left.

Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki is sixth with 30,181 points.

Cavaliers frustrated with lack of defensive effort, toughness

DENVER — Following a 126-113 drubbing at the hands of the Nuggets on Wednesday, Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James called out his team’s toughness with just a dozen regular-season games remaining before the Cavs begin their title defense.

“It ain’t about a group. It’s about individuals,” James said after Cleveland allowed Denver to put up 73 points in the first half, score a whopping 70 points in the paint in the game and shoot 53.1 percent from the field and 42.3 percent from 3. “We’ve got to be more, just do more. It ain’t about no group. You can’t preach toughness. You’ve got to have it.”

James was asked how his individual defensive effort stacked up on a night when he registered a plus-minus of minus-30 in 34 minutes.

“Personally? I had opportunities where I could have been better,” James said before firing back with a rebuttal. “Um, one thing about it: I always bring toughness to the game. I know that. That’s for sure.”

What is also a sure thing is how dire the Cavs’ repeat chances will become if Cleveland continues its porous defense. The Cavs rank 22nd in the NBA in defensive efficiency this season and 29th in March, according to ESPN Stats & Information. No NBA champion in the past 20 seasons finished the regular season ranked worse than 19th in that category (the 2000-01 Los Angeles Lakers, another repeat champion). Last season, the Cavs finished 10th in defensive efficiency.

Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving had no interest in reflecting on where the Cavs were at this point last season — holding a 50-20 record and dealing with the fallout of James’ bizarre social media habits after he unfollowed the Cavs’ team account on Twitter — compared to where they currently stand, at 46-24 and having lost six of their past 10 games.

“There’s no comparison, man,” Irving said. “Last year compared to this year, you can’t even [compare]. It wouldn’t be fair. It wouldn’t be fair because you see how we go on [comparing] the record, what’s our record at this particular date, and honestly, none of that s— matters. We’re trying to go into the playoffs as healthy as possible. Everybody is getting back. It’s been a very, very weird season for all of us. Injuries here and there. Things to figure out. New player trades and stuff like that.

“We’ll figure it out. I’m not concerned, though. These guys, our culture that is built here now over the last three years has been very great and something that we can all lean on to. We just got to stay more connected and just be there for one another, and we’ll be all right.”

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue was less optimistic. He has seen his team’s defensive efficiency get worse every month this season. The Cavaliers allowed 104 points per 100 possessions in October and November (15th in the NBA), 106.2 in December (14th), 107.0 in January (14th), 109.8 in February (23rd) and 114 this month.

Cleveland’s defense has been particularly reprehensible when it comes to forcing turnovers (only 9.5 per game in March, worst in the NBA), guarding the 3-point line (their 10.3 3-pointers allowed per game this season are 26th in the league) and protecting the paint (their 47.3 points given up in the key per game in March are also 26th).

“They came and just kicked our butt in every facet of the game,” Lue said. “Coaches, we got to be better, but players, they got to be better too. They got to be tougher. Got to [have] more urgency, and it comes from all of us. They got 3-point shots, they got points in the paint, they got offensive rebounds. They got, I mean, whatever they wanted. And we got to be better than that. It starts with the coaches, but the players got to look at themselves in the mirror too. They got to be more physical, they got to bring a physical presence, and they’ve got to take pride in guarding their man.”

Lue’s frustration in the game boiled over, as he was called for a rare technical foul late in the third quarter for getting on referee Zach Zarba for what he believed was incessant physical play by Denver’s Jameer Nelson.

“A team’s up 40 points and they’re just playing physical and hard,” Lue said of the Nuggets, whose largest lead was actually 21 points. “We’re down 40, and we got guys just walking away and doing whatever. So we got to take pride in that, and we got to be better.”

Cavs center Tristan Thompson took the critiques of his coach personally.

“When it comes to toughness, that’s an area that I’m definitely going to look at and take very seriously,” Thompson said. “Because at the end of the day, I’m the man in the middle, so I got to make sure I bring that toughness, and if it’s being questioned, I got to pick that s— up.”

Cleveland now holds just a one-game lead over the Boston Celtics for first place in the Eastern Conference.

“I think seeding is always something you pay attention to, but we need to focus on ourselves,” Kevin Love said. “It’s not like we were out there tonight thinking, ‘If we lose this game, Boston …’ We were thinking about getting better, and we didn’t do that tonight.”

LeBron James is ready to play in the last official season of the palace

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — LeBron James will play his last regular-season game in the arena where he first truly realized his potential for greatness when the Detroit Pistons host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.

Ten years ago James, just 22 years old, scored 48 points against the Pistons in Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference finals at the Palace of Auburn Hills. The win, which included James scoring his team’s final 25 points and 29 of its final 30 in the 109-107 overtime victory, helped the Cavs upset the Pistons in six games after Detroit started the series up 2-0.

The Palace, located approximately 35 miles northwest of downtown Detroit, will no longer be home for the Pistons after this season. They will move into Little Caesars Arena in Detroit beginning with the start of the 2017-18 season.

“I’ve had a lot of memories obviously,” said James, who has averaged 23.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 7.1 assists in 25 regular-season games at the Palace, going 14-11. “It’s been fun to play here in this building and see the history. This went up in ’89 I believe. I’ve had a lot of games here, a lot of battles with a lot of great teams and the fans have always been pretty great. That will continue to happen when they move downtown, too.”

The Palace actually opened its doors in August 1988 and was the Pistons’ home for their three championship seasons in 1989, 1990 and 2004.

Detroit had championship aspirations in 2007 as the No. 1 seed in the East as well until James’ No. 2-seeded Cavs took the Pistons out thanks in large part to James’ brilliance in Game 5.

“I haven’t ranked games yet for me because I’m still going and still playing,” James said when asked to put that performance up against others in his career. “When I played that particular game that night, I was exhausted. I had nothing left after that game. I left everything out on the floor and we was able to close that series out back at home in Game 6. I haven’t had time to rank what I’ve done so far.” Cavs assistant coach Larry Drew, who was coaching the Atlanta Hawks back in 2007, had no problem ranking that game by James among the most notable showings in league history.

“I thought that was a phenomenal performance by an individual,” Drew said. “You can look at guys throughout our league, the 81 that Kobe (Bryant) scored, you have to put that in that same mode of guys that have the ability to do those type things. You don’t forget, you don’t forget ‘em. I’ve had the opportunity to be around Kobe and coach ‘Bron and a lot of these other great guys, Magic (Johnson); I was with Michael (Jordan). You always remember those type situations when guys do have those type of performances.”

While James is ranked eighth on the all-time scoring list, he’s always defined his play by more than just putting the ball in the bucket, which makes that game against the Pistons stand out even more.

“I’ve been in some good zones before, I’ve put up some big numbers,” said James who added that he has the jersey and sneakers he wore that night against Detroit as keepsakes. “But the one thing I’ve always kept on my mind is what the main goal is and that’s to win. I’m not a high volume guy. I’m not just casting up shots and hopefully see things go in or try to get in a rhythm. I’ve always understood scoring time and things of that nature and what’s going on in the game and keeping the main focus, and that’s to win.

LeBron James does not care about Cleveland without limiting his minutes

INDIANAPOLIS — The Cleveland Cavaliers have not adhered to their stated plan to cut down on LeBron James’ minutes, and James doesn’t seem concerned about it.

“I’m fine,” James said before the Cavs’ shootaround ahead of Wednesday’s game against the Indiana Pacers. “Coach is going to do a good job of looking at my numbers and trying to get me rest throughout the game, but I don’t see me having slowed down. My numbers are up, but we’ve been in a good groove, and if I get rest here, couple minutes here throughout the game, couple minutes there, off days, things of that nature, [I will be OK]. It helps the body, but it’s whatever coach wants to do.”

Coincidentally, coach Tyronn Lue announced his intention to limit James’ minutes as the season wore on the last time the Cavs came to Indiana, in November. Lue said James’ minutes would shift from the 36- to 38-minute range to the 32- to 34-minute range when the schedule hit either late January or late February, in a plan agreed upon by Lue, James and James’ longtime athletic trainer, Mike Mancias.

However, rest has been slow to come for the 14-year veteran James, who is second in the league in minutes at 37.6 per night, trailing only Toronto’s Kyle Lowry (37.7), an 11-year veteran.

In James’ eight games since Jan. 23, his playing time has actually increased to 38.9 minutes per contest.

“We’ve been talking about it,” Lue said. “He’s being bull-headed about it. He doesn’t want to back down because he says he’s in a good rhythm right now. We just have to play it by ear. If we’ve got the chance to get him rest, we’ve got to get him rest. When we get up on teams, we have to put teams away, so his minutes will go down like the New York game [last Friday]. Being up 26 in the fourth quarter and then all of a sudden he has to come back and play extra minutes he shouldn’t have to play. We’ve got to be conscious of that and see where it goes.”

The overall rest plan, outside of minutes, is to give James a game off once about every 10 games, a team source told ESPN. Thus far, James has played in 47 of the Cavs’ first 50 games. Cleveland is 0-3 when he sits out.

“It’s a fine line, but at the end of the day we have to do what’s best for the team,” James said. “It’s a long-term thing for us. We’ve got a long journey where we believe in our coaching staff believes in it, Coach Lue believes in it. As much as I’m a competitor, I want to play 48 minutes because I’m a competitor. I hate coming out. But at the end of the day, I have to do what’s best for the team. And if that’s giving me rest that may cost us a game here or there, then so be it. We’ve got to understand that this is a process, it’s a long process for us, and it’s a marathon and not a sprint. I have to remind myself of that.”

James said he and Lue continue to be on the same page.

“This is a joint venture, all right?” he said. “Me and T-Lue is a marriage, all right? This is a two-way street, OK?”

James said he will play Wednesday and was irritated by a line of questioning that pointed out he had not played in three of the Cavs’ past five trips to Indiana.

“I ain’t sitting out tonight, all right?” James said, before adding another playful shot. “Leave me alone.”

But he could sit out Thursday’s nationally televised game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, which will be Cleveland’s third game in four nights — the type of situation Lue said he would look to rest James at the outset of training camp.

“We’ve got to see how many minutes he plays tonight,” Lue said.

Asked whether James could sit out against the Thunder if James played close to 40 minutes vs. the Pacers, Lue said, “That’s fair.”

Cavaliers on verge of acquiring Kyle Korver, but LeBron James says they still need PG

NEW YORK — As the Cleveland Cavaliers finalize a deal to acquire sharpshooter Kyle Korver from the Atlanta Hawks on Friday, LeBron James declared that the work is not done for the defending champions.

“We still got a couple more things we need to do,” James said at Cavs shootaround Friday morning in preparation for their game against the Brooklyn Nets. “We got to get a point guard.”

It was a continuation of the point guard drum James was beating after the Cavs lost to the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday.

“Yeah, it’s my last time saying it,” James said. “We need a point guard.”

ESPN’s Marc Stein reported this week that former Cavs playcaller Jarrett Jack is available, as are former Miami Heat point guards Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole, who both have ties to James.

The Cavs’ roster would be at the maximum of 15 players should the Korver deal include Mike Dunleavy as the lone player being shipped out. But under the current framework of the trade, the Cavs would send Mo Williams, Dunleavy and a protected 2019 first-round pick to the Hawks for Korver, sources said. The teams are talking about moving Dunleavy to a third team but had not yet found one, sources said.

Both DeAndre Liggins’ and Jordan McRae’s contracts don’t become fully guaranteed until Jan. 10. If the Cavaliers chose to part ways with one of the two in order to create a roster spot, they would need to do so by Saturday in order for the player to be processed in the 48-hour window it would take to clear waivers by Jan. 10.

Liggins is certainly safe, as Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said he will remain the starter in the backcourt, even when Korver presumably reports to the team. And Lue made a point to tell reporters that McRae was on the court Friday morning, refuting the notion that the swingman could be on the way out.

According to a team source, there is a “zero percent chance” McRae will be waived.

There is the possibility that Cleveland will be able to negotiate a buyout with either Williams or Chris Andersen, who are both occupying spots on dead-weight deals.

“I think that’s the next step,” James said of a point guard addition, “… and, uh, you know, you look at our league, most teams have three point guards. We only have two, with [Kyrie Irving] and our rook in Kay [Felder]. I think just having that secure blanket [is important]. Every NFL team has three quarterbacks. Having that secure blanket in case of a [situation like the Raiders losing] Derek Carr. We’ll see what happens, but we’re happy with our team right now.”

Indeed, there was a noticeable joy among the Cavs as they took the court at Basketball City on Pier 36 on Friday, as they considered the possibility of adding a former All-Star in Korver to their already accomplished group.

“It’ll be good for our team,” James said. “Got to get him the ball. It adds another dynamic piece to our team. Hell of a sharpshooter and just a great guy. Great professional, as you’ve seen over his career, so once he gets here, we’ll be happy to have him.”

Korver, a career 42.9 percent shooter from 3, is shooting 40.9 percent from beyond the arc for Atlanta this season but has made a whopping 49 percent of his open opportunities.

With the trade for Korver still not official, Lue was initially coy about what his addition could mean.

“What shooter?” Lue said. “Like me? Well, s—, if you add me, man, butt-naked shots, nobody around, I’d probably shoot 54 percent.”

While James wouldn’t predict a percentage for Korver, he did say the 14-year veteran would flourish in Cleveland.

“We’re going to get him the ball,” James said. “He’s on the floor for a reason, and we’re going to get it to him.”

The trade for Korver is expected to be completed by Saturday, a Cavaliers source told ESPN. Korver did not accompany the Hawks to Dallas for their game Saturday against the Mavericks, league sources told ESPN’s Marc Stein.

While Korver would surely help alleviate the absence of J.R. Smith, who could miss up to three months with a right thumb injury, Lue was specifically excited about how Korver will mesh with the second unit, particularly when Kevin Love is on the floor with them.

“Especially a guy who can move without the ball the way he moves coming off screens and things like that, there’s no better guy,” Lue said. “I mean, him, Steph [Curry], Klay [Thompson], right now coming off screens and being able to make shots and make plays.”

Dunleavy made the flight with the Cavs to New York but was not present at shootaround Friday.

The deal comes almost two years to the day when Cleveland made multiple trades to acquire Smith, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov, propelling the franchise to back-to-back Finals appearances.

“No disrespect to anyone who has come and gone, they do a good job of filling voids when we need it or adding a little bit of depth when we need it,” Love said of general manager David Griffin and the Cavs’ front office. “I think Kyle does that for us. With Swish out, we’ll be able to fill a lot of the shooting we haven’t had at that position. I keep saying the word ‘depth,’ add more depth for us and get another guy out on the floor — a healthy body.”

LeBron James, about to turn 32, doesn’t want Michael Jordan comparisons

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Ever since LeBron James donned the No. 23 at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School and became a nationally known hoops phenomenon, the comparisons to Michael Jordan followed.

On the eve of his 32nd birthday, James was asked whether he has pondered Jordan at age 32, as MJ turned in perhaps his finest season as a pro at that age back in 1995-96, leading the Chicago Bulls to a then-all-time best 72-10 record, which the Golden State Warriors beat last season.

“No, I haven’t [compared myself to him at this age], because our games are so different,” James said Thursday after the Cleveland Cavaliers held shootaround in preparation for their game against the Boston Celtics. “As much as he was, he was much more of a scorer, and that point did a lot of, a lot of post work at that time.

“But our games are just different. His body is different. My body is different than his. So, just, you recognize the dominance that someone had at that age, at that age you recognize his dominance, but there’s no similarities in our game at all.”

James wouldn’t even allow for the similarities between his fadeaway jumper and Jordan’s, even though mashup videos have started to surface online comparing the virtually indefensible shot that both players possess.

“Nah, it’s different,” James said. “He has much more lift in his fadeaway than mine. That was definitely a go-to move of his. Our games are completely different.”

Jordan averaged 30.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.2 steals at age 32, while shooting 49.5 percent from the field and a career-best 42.7 percent from 3. James is averaging 25.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, 8.6 assists and 1.4 steals this season while shooting 51.3 percent from the field and 37.9 percent from 3.

The Cavs, while not on a 72-10 pace, have won the last nine games in which James has played.

“He’s a mixture between a few players,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said before Thursday night’s game against the Boston Celtics. “He’s got the explosiveness and power of Dominique Wilkins, the scoring ability of Jordan at times. The court vision and the way he pushes the pace like Magic Johnson and having the height, so he’s a mixture between three guys, and as far as a comparison between him and Jordan, the comparisons I have is when you’re on top, the best player in the league for so long and having to carry that each and every year and never get knocked down off that pedestal, that’s a big accomplishment because guys are coming for you and you’re a target, and to always stay on top no matter what, always being that best player in the league, that’s how I compare him and Jordan.”

If James doesn’t want to compare himself to Jordan, at least he can compare himself to himself, and the numbers show he is enjoying a better season this year than he was last year when he turned 31 years old. In 2015-16 he averaged 25.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 1.4 steals while shooting 52 percent from the floor and 30.9 percent from 3.

“It must be the wine drinking,” joked James, who has increasingly shared his love for vino on his Instagram account. “Get better with age, I guess. I just feel great. I’ve told you guys, I feel great. I’ve conditioned myself and I’m having one of the best statistical [outputs across all] categories seasons of my career so far and I just want to try to continue to keep it going.”

If there is anything to be gleaned by the arc of Jordan’s career compare to James’, it’s that perhaps the best is still yet to come for the King. Jordan won titles Nos. 4-6 at ages 32-34. If you look at James’ career versus Jordan’s career just up until the season in which they turned 32, James outpaces Jordan in MVP awards (4-3), Finals appearances (7-3) and is tied in championships (3-3).

Turning the page on age 31 also means saying goodbye to 2016 for James, a year in which he helped bring an end to a 52-year championship drought in Cleveland and was named the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the year, the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year as well as an ESPY winner for Best Male Athlete, Best NBA Player and Best Championship Performance.

“It was a great year,” James said. “Not only for me in my professional career but for me as a father, a husband and things of that nature, my family is happy and my foundation, it’s been a great year. But I’m not a start-over guy on the first of the year. I just try to continue it, keep it going. I’m not New Year’s resolution guy, I don’t say, ‘Let’s get to a new start.’ Let’s just keep it going. My calendar doesn’t stop. My hours continue to go and we want to continue to be as great as we can be even going into January 1st.”

Kevin Love has stiffness and swelling in knee, won’t play Tuesday

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love will not play in Tuesday’s road game against the Milwaukee Bucks because of stiffness and swelling in his left knee.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue also announced Monday that Love would be questionable Wednesday for the second half of Cleveland’s home-and-home matchup with Milwaukee.

Love banged knees with Los Angeles Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr. in Cleveland’s 119-108 win Saturday.

Love played through the collision, finishing with 27 points and a season-high 17 rebounds, but his knee kept him out of Monday’s practice.

“He took a blow to the knee, knee-to-knee, and it swelled up on him, and it’s kind of stiff,” Lue said.

Love is averaging 22.3 points, 10.7 rebounds and a career-high 1.1 steals per game this season. Additionally, both his field goal percentage (46.8) and 3-point percentage (41.2) are the best he’s shot the ball since the 2010-11 season.

Love has played in 24 of the Cavs’ 25 games this season, sitting out a game last week in which Lue also kept out LeBron James and Kyrie Irving in a 93-85 loss to Memphis.

J.R. Smith Womens Jersey

Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith(J.R. Smith Jersey) will not pick up his player option and will become a free agent on July 1, sources told ESPN.com.

Smith has until midnight Thursday to pick up the option for $5.3 million for next season. As has been expected for months, Smith will let it pass and test the market.

Had Smith elected to opt in, his salary for next season was only partially guaranteed.

He averaged 12.4 points and made a career-high 204 3-pointers, shooting 40 percent on them, with Cleveland during the 2015-16 regular season. He became the Cavs’ starting shooting guard mostly because of his improved defense. He has averaged 11.4 points and shot 44 percent on 3-pointers during this postseason.

Cleveland.com first reported Smith elected to test free agency.

Cavaliers LeBron James Jersey

Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James(LeBron James Jersey) has called Muhammad Ali the greatest athlete of all time. But on Friday afternoon, hours before Ali died at age 74, James said it was Ali’s work and influence outside the boxing ring that he will remember most, a sentiment he expressed again speaking to the media on Saturday .

“When I was a kid, I was amazed by what Ali did in the ring,” James told ESPN.com on Friday. “As I got older and started to read about him and watch things about him, I started to realize what he did in the ring was secondary to what he meant outside of the ring — just his influence, what he stood for.”

James reiterated that sentiment Saturday.

“Obviously, we knew how great of a boxer he was, but I think that was only 20 percent of what made him as great as he was,” James told reporters in Oakland. “What he stood for, I mean, it’s a guy who basically had to give up a belt and relish everything that he had done because of what he believed in and ended up in jail because of his beliefs. It’s a guy who stood up for so many different things throughout the times where it was so difficult for African-Americans to even walk in the streets.”

As an African-American, James said Ali is largely responsible for his ability to enjoy not only fame and wealth as a professional athlete but also the opportunities that come with it.

“The reason why he’s the GOAT is not because of what he did in the ring, which was unbelievable,” James told ESPN.com, referring to the acronym commonly attached to Ali, which stands for “greatest of all time.”

“It’s what he did outside of the ring, what he believed in, what he stood for, along with Jim Brown and Oscar Robertson, Lew Alcindor — obviously, who became Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] — Bill Russell, Jackie Robinson. Those guys stood for something. He’s part of the reason why African-Americans today can do what we do in the sports world. We’re free. They allow us to have access to anything we want. It’s because of what they stood for, and Muhammad Ali was definitely the pioneer for that.”

James said Saturday that Ali “paved the way for guys like myself.”

“Today I can sit and go to China and make trips to China and all over the world and people know my name and know my face,” James said. “I give all credit to Muhammad Ali because he was the first icon.”

James spoke to ESPN.com on Friday after the Cavaliers practiced for Sunday’s Game 2 of the NBA Finals (the Warriors lead 1-0). At 31, James is too young to have seen Ali fight, but he said he has watched footage of Ali on networks such as ESPN Classic.

On Aug. 28, 2010, James tweeted, “Muhammad Ali is the #greatestofalltime reguardless (sic) of sport. Nuff said!”

Authentic LeBron James Jersey

INDIANAPOLIS — LeBron James(LeBron James Jersey) will sit out the Cleveland Cavaliers’ game against the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday for rest, the team announced several hours before tipoff.

“It’s just the right time,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “The training staff said it was the right game to do it on the back-to-back. We want to be cautious, so that’s what they said.”

Cleveland played in Milwaukee on Tuesday, with James putting up 17 points, nine assists and five rebounds in 28 minutes before sitting out the entire fourth quarter of a 109-80 rout over the Bucks.

James, fresh off receiving the NBA’s Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors for March when he averaged 25.6 points on 53.8 percent shooting, 8.2 rebounds and 7.1 assists, has repeatedly said in recent weeks just how good his body is feeling compared with this time a year ago.

Nevertheless, with one week and four games remaining in the regular season, the Cavs figure it is more beneficial to give the 13-year veteran a night off with the playoffs approaching.

Lue said James was nearing the “red zone” distinction the Cavs’ training staff assigns to players who are reaching exhaustion from overexertion.

“When a guy logs so many minutes, they have a red, yellow and green zone to kind of tell you where their body is at and how much of a load they’ve carried over the course and duration over the last week or two,” Lue said.

The Cavs are 1-3 this season and 4-13 the past two seasons in games James sits out.

The Cavs came into the Pacers game riding a four-game winning streak. Lue was confident that Cleveland can keep up its momentum without James.

“I think we’re up for the challenge,” Lue said. “I think the players are up for the challenge. We’ve been playing great basketball. This will be a good game for us and a good test for us, but I think our guys are up for the challenge.”

It remains to be seen whether resting James against Indiana has an impact on the playoff race in the East. Cleveland is 3-0 against the Pacers this season with James. The Cavs came into the night with a 3? game lead over Toronto for first place, with the Pacers a half game up on the Pistons for seventh place. Detroit is 2-1 against the Cavs this season. If the Pistons catch the Pacers for the No. 7 spot, Cleveland could feasibly have a more favorable first round opponent in Indiana.

“Yes, we definitely thought about that,” Lue said when asked if James’ rest could affect the playoff standings. “The medical staff said on a back-to-back, it’s just being cautious right now and that’s what we have to do.”

Lue was then asked if James fought Lue on his decision to hold him out. “Fight me? I’d say, ‘Play,’” Lue said with a laugh. “He didn’t fight me. He’d probably have to fight the medical staff. So, whatever.”

Keeping James out against Indiana will give him three full days rest before the Cavs play the Bulls in Chicago on Saturday to finish out their three-game road trip. Cleveland closes the regular season with home games against Atlanta on Monday and Detroit on Wednesday.