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No sports league does drama quite like the NBA, but sadly, the basketball world may be robbed of some can’t-miss conflict on the season’s opening night.
The league’s first game of the 2017-18 season will not only be missing Isaiah Thomas, but it also might be missing LeBron James, too.
James suffered a sprained ankle in late September and aggravated the ailment in a preseason game on Tuesday. As a result, the Cavaliers don’t know if he’ll be ready to go on Tuesday night when Kyrie Irving and the Celtics roll into town.
“Not sure. Got treatment all day today, so I’m not sure if we should be concerned or not,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue told reporters. “But it’s pretty sore today so we’ll just see what happens.”
Lue said James is upset that his ankle is still an issue.
“Pretty mad, pretty pissed off,” Lue said “But I mean, it is what it is.”
Imagine if – after last season’s Eastern Conference finals, the trade, the squabbling, the pettiness, the league setting up a confrontation in the first game of the season – imagine if LeBron can’t play.
The possibility is so unexpected because LeBron physically dominates his opponents every night. He’s not injury-prone; it seems like the only time he sits out is when he’s resting. Although LeBron often appears to be hurt, somehow he always rises from the floor and heroically plays on.
LeBron’s absence would obviously help the Celtics, but it would dull the sparkle of the much-anticipated clash. Although not for Kyrie.
“Excited to play some basketball in Cleveland,” Irving said prior to the team’s Shamrock Foundation Tip-Off Gala Thursday night. “Personally, it’s just basketball, man. I am going up there understanding the legacy that I was a part of team-wise and individually. Just seeing the maturation process that I went through coming in as a 19-year-old kid and being in an unbelievable city such as Cleveland. Seeing it grow, and obviously leaving a championship there, is awesome.
“It’s going to be an adjustment (going back). But I’m looking forward to it.”
Providence Journal – Celts’ Kyrie Irving looks forward to return to Cleveland for opener
That might be just talk – but I doubt it. Kyrie is good enough to be that confident. As for me, I hope LeBron plays, because it will be a better, more entertaining game if he does. And because, when the Celtics win, I don’t want Cavs fans to have any excuses.
Related: Cleveland.com – LeBron James (ankle) shut down for preseason, Boston opener in question | CSNNE – Pros and cons of LeBron James potentially missing the season opener
On Page 2: Don’t forget Gordo
After all of the hype and the pressure and the heavy-duty emotional work of starting over on a new team, Hayward is finally back at the one place where he can really feel comfortable: the basketball court, a place where haircuts take a backseat to championships and you’re judged less on how you look and more on how you ball.
With his new running buddies (he throws Al Horford’s name around a lot, indicating his excitement to run pick-and-rolls with him), Hayward has to figure out his place and his spot all over again. When Isaiah Thomas was still around, there might have been a scenario in which the Celtics became Hayward’s team. With Irving at the 1, the question of leadership is a bit more settled.
So far, it’s all smiles in Beantown. “They’re functioning great,” Ainge says of the Irving/Hayward pairing. “They both can play on the ball. They can play off the ball. They both realize the importance of each other.”
Bleacher Report – Gordon Hayward Is Done Layin’ Low
It’s funny how Hayward has been somewhat forgotten since the arrival of Kyrie Irving. There was a whole lotta drama back in early July, when Gordo was making his free agency visits, followed by the climactic “he’s coming to Boston … no he isn’t … yes he is” cliffhanger. Once that was settled, some thought maybe all the big deals had been done.
They weren’t, obviously. And because of the personalities, the rivalry, and the audacity of trading with your main competitor, we just haven’t been able to stop talking about the Kyrie/IT deal.
Only when the preseason games began did we turn our attention back – a little bit – to Hayward. He’s been productive in a low-key way, consistent and looking like he’s trying to fit in. But to get back on everyone’s radar, we need Hayward to be much more assertive in the regular season. Like this:
And, finally: The Theis Man
Theis has become popular among teammates and has made an impact on the court with his energy. He wasn’t a prolific scorer in Germany, but he has drawn comparisons to Chris “Birdman” Andersen for his length and athleticism. Theis played in all four Celtics preseason games, scoring 12 points in his debut and collecting nine rebounds in Monday’s win over Philadelphia.
“The game is faster. I needed like a week or two of practice but I think I have adjusted pretty good,” he said.
Theis walks the streets unrecognized. But he may become a fan favorite at TD Garden for his energy. He seems to be a guy just trying to make a play. The Celtics didn’t sign Theis to score or be a star, but to become perhaps a frontcourt version of Marcus Smart.
Hard to believe a 6-foot-9 guy can walk through Boston and not have anyone ask him if he plays basketball. That will change soon enough. It’s tradition that any Celtic who specializes in hustle plays on the parquet becomes a folk hero.
Theis is more than just a scrapper, however. The 25-year-old is unique on the roster because he’s new to the NBA but has been playing professionally since age 15 (as mentioned during the Cs telecast from Charlotte). Watch his help defense and positioning under the boards; his experience is obvious.
Judging by his preseason production, Theis should be a solid contributor who picks up more than his share of Tommy Points. His days of going unrecognized will soon be over.
The Rest of the Links:
SB Nation – A Celtics Team 5 Years In The Making
CSNNE – Ainge unsure if Celts will reach contract extension with Smart before deadline | Celtics’ 3-point shooters in Brad Stevens’ scheme should be dangerous | Marcus Smart given New England Baptist Hospital Community Champions Award
And happy 40th birthday to The Captain and The Truth: Paul Pierce, born on October 13, 1977.