“I just want to get to where I should be,” James said after participating in the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ practice Thursday. “The ankle and the foot injury just kind of kept me out and set me back further than I would like, but I got some time now along the course of these games that we got. We got two back-to-backs coming up, so that’s going to help and we have some opportunity to get some practice time in as well.”
James missed four of the Cavs’ five preseason games, but it hardly showed in the Cavs’ 102-99 win over the Boston Celtics on opening night. James had 29 points, 16 rebounds and 9 assists, but still called out his own conditioning following the game.
“I’m out of shape, very out of shape for my expectations,” James told TNT’s Kristen Ledlow during his on-court postgame interview Tuesday.
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue echoed James’ criticism, only Lue thought that the entire team had work to do.
“We’ve got to get in better shape,” Lue said after the Boston game. “As far as pushing ourselves, not saving ourselves. We’ve got to do a better job of playing hard six or seven minutes, you get tired, come out.
“Our pace was really slow. To hold a team to 41 percent shooting — and they were at 36 or 37 [percent] for a while — and not play with pace, getting up and down the floor, that’s not good for us. We want to play fast; we want to get up and down the floor. I thought tonight we settled and played a half-court game.”
James has done his part, telling ESPN he opted for a postgame VersaClimber session even after playing 41 minutes against the Celtics. Then James gathered several members of the Cavs for a VersaClimber class at 7:30 a.m. Thursday ahead of the team’s 11 a.m. practice.
An exhausted Dwyane Wade posted a Snapchat video after the morning workout, letting out a big exhale before concluding, “Man, good stuff. Good stuff, though.”
The setback to James’ ankle came after a particularly grueling offseason full of workouts, which allowed the 15-year veteran to report to camp in what he called some of the best shape of his life. How long does he expect it will take to get back to that level?
“Take me a couple weeks,” James said. “As long as I’m on the court and I’m playing and not having these setbacks, take me a couple weeks. But I’ll be fine.”
This isn’t a new coaching tactic for Lue. In fact, after his first game coaching the Cavs after taking over for David Blatt in January 2016, he offered the same critique.
“You want to be in the best shape you can be in individually,” James said. “You shouldn’t have to have a coach tell you that. I think we were out of shape at that point in time [when Lue first took over] because of the style of play we had. We didn’t stress pushing the ball. … We didn’t stress playing at a high tempo and getting the ball up there.
“Our game fit with the type of conditioning we was in. When he took over, he wanted us to do something more. He wanted us to get the ball across half court in four seconds so we could execute our offense. We wasn’t ready for that and it showed. We know how we want to play now and if guys are monitoring themselves, guys come in before practice, stay after practice, you guys see that all the time. Well not before, but after. Not too worried about that.”
The NBA shortened its preseason this year to allow for more time between games during the regular season. With training camp a week shorter, teams lost precious practice time for conditioning. Lue said that might have affected the Cavs more than other teams, with seven of their players at least 30 years old.
“Shorter training camp it does hurt you as far as conditioning,” Lue said. “When you have an older team that’s been around for a long time, you can’t really practice and condition the way you want to. Just going to take some time to get into shape and get in game shape. We will see how that goes.”