CLEVELAND — Random dribbles following the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 102-99 season-opening win over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday.
1. LeBron James played 41 minutes on a sore ankle and was magnificent all-around in scoring 29 points, pulling down 16 rebounds and passing for nine assists. And no, I don’t have a problem with James playing 40-plus minutes.
2. Opinions on minutes vary, with fans and media sometimes thinking that you need to preserve your best player for later in the season. But as one member of the Cavs told me, “I know why fans make a big deal of minutes. It’s because they never reached this level.”
3. At this level, players almost never want to come out. That’s especially true of star players such as James. While we don’t know this to ever be the case with James, star players occasionally wave off a coach who calls for the star player to rest. Everyone in the NBA wants to be on the floor every minute they can. And in the NBA, coaches trust and listen to their stars.
4. People will get upset with Cavs coach Tyronn Lue this season for James’ minutes. They are sure to be heavy. The Cavs want to win a lot of games and the best way to do that is to keep James on the court. He will surely sit out some games with sore ankles and stiff backs (since players can no longer just “rest” on the road). But when LeBron is in uniform and available, he will play — a lot.
5. The Cavs don’t know what next season holds. I have a feeling neither does LeBron — though I strongly believe he will be back and finish his career in Cleveland. But the Cavs can’t get too caught up in forward-thinking. They have to go for the gold now. So if LeBron is out there at 40-minutes a night, well, then he is. This isn’t nursery school. This is pro basketball and this is a grownup league.
6. James is 32 years old, will be 33 at the end of December. He has lost a step, he can’t jump like he did even three years ago. He admittedly isn’t in tip-top shape because of the sore ankle. These Cavs are old and slower. They aren’t going to blow out many people, and they will get blown out themselves sometimes. My guess is LeBron will be on the floor every bit s much this season as he was last, maybe more.
7. Fans and media draw some wild conclusions after one game. But truth is, all of these teams should still be in training camp/preseason. (The schedule started two weeks sooner this season.) There is bound to be plenty of rust — both from the players and the coaching staffs.
8. I watched at least parts of both games Tuesday night, including the Cavs-Celtics from The Q. All four teams looked extremely rusty at times, even the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors in the Rockets’ thriller of a road win.
9. But if this season is anything like opening night, my goodness, it’s going to be tons of fun yet again.
10. A lot of writers seem to want to know why Kyrie Irving left for the Celtics. Kyrie isn’t going to say, but some media members are drawing their own conclusions and telling stories about it anyway. But who knows, who cares and when do they play the Cavs again?
11. Irving and the Celtics look like a slightly above-average team at the moment. They will be relying on younger players such as Irving, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Who knows if Gordon Hayward will play again this season after that horrific ankle injury. It sure wouldn’t seem like it. Either way, teams with so much newness often struggle early — and the Celtics just might.
12. As for the Cavs, I want to see more, much more. Their perimeter defense leaves something to be desired, but it’s hard to find fault with the opponent shooting 41 percent overall.
13. You can read more specifics on the game in my column/recap here.
14. Lue has to find a way to get Kyle Korver some minutes and some shots. Otherwise, why did the Cavs sign Korver to a three-year contract this summer? They will need both Korver and J.R. Smith firing up 3-pointers off the bench. Problem is, Korver couldn’t guard the water cooler at the end of the bench.
15. Kevin Love was both really bad and pretty good, and I’d think by now Cavs fans have gotten used to that. I don’t think that’s ever gonna change while he’s next to LeBron. As great as James is, power forwards often struggle to adjust next to him.
16. Love appreciates James, however, especially after giving him the ball for the game-winning three Tuesday. “He only played on game in the preseason, and he can still pick up his game,” Love said. “Even when he looks a little bit winded, he was able to make a huge play.”
17. The Cavs are not practicing Wednesday. They visit Milwaukee for their first road game of the season Friday.
18. Yes, that was really the Celtics’ lone visit of the regular season. Maybe Cleveland will see Kyrie again in the playoffs. Maybe.