Healthy LeBron James or Not, Celtics Expect Biggest Challenge Yet From Cavaliers

Healthy  LeBron James or Not, Celtics Expect Biggest Challenge Yet From Cavaliers

Shortly after the Cavaliers' 96-94 squeaker over the Chicago Bulls in Game 5 to advance to the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, word out of Cleveland was that the Cavs' star is banged up. LeBron James reportedly has a strained right elbow and a bone bruise.

Word out of Boston, shortly after the Celtics' practice on Thursday, is that no one cares.

"I could really care less about his elbow," said C's captain Paul Pierce, point-blank, when asked about the status of the Cavs' MVP frontrunner.

James' elbow has been bothering him for months, and things came to a point on Tuesday night in Cleveland when he went to the line for two free throws in the closing seconds of Game 5, made one shot with his right hand, felt some pain, then switched hands. He missed the second shot with his left.

For the Celtics, is LeBron's health going forward of any concern?

C's coach Doc Rivers laughed out loud at that notion.

"No," Rivers said, upon regaining his composure. "He's fine. I'll tell you what — if he goes three or four games and shoots left-handed only, then I'll believe that he's hurt. But other than that, no. We're going to be ready for the LeBron that we've seen all through the playoffs."

That LeBron has been pretty darn good. King James' numbers through five games against the Bulls these past two weeks: 31.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, 8.2 assists, 2.4 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. If he's hurt, he's doing a pretty good job hiding it.

"I don't even pay attention to it," Ray Allen said of the LeBron news. "If there's something wrong with his elbow, or any part of his body, he won't play. We all know that."

But when he does play? The Celtics had better be ready. The bulk of the work defensively will fall to Pierce, and the Celtics' captain is up to the challenge of guarding LeBron for seven games. In fact, he says, the team's had a good practice run recently.

"It's just like Dwyane Wade," Pierce said. "You know he's going get the ball 90 percent of the time in their offense. He's going to get the majority of the calls. The key is just to slow him down to where he's not going off for 40-, 50-point nights. You want to limit his easy opportunities, you want to limit him getting dunks and layups, and force him to try to beat you from the perimeter.

"It's tough to stop a guy like that who gets any type of shots he wants, as much as he wants. My job is just to make him work as hard as I can and just try to slow him down enough so I'm making him work."

But it's not that easy. What makes this Cavaliers team so dangerous is that it can go big or go small, depending on the matchup. Antawn Jamison can play the three or the four. So can Jamario Moon. Anderson Varejao can play the four or the five. James, with all his physical gifts, can play pretty much any position on the floor.

This means that you never really know who will end up on LeBron — the Cavs' star can play any position the Cavs ask him to, and the Celtics have to be prepared to be adapt. Everyone has to be ready to take on James.

Luckily for the Celtics, team defense has always been their strength.

"Defense is not just a one-on-one thing," Kevin Garnett said. "Obviously we have each other. The responsibility is not just on Paul. It's going to be on all of us. We have to communicate often and loudly, and be firm and aggressive."

And when he cries foul about this injury or that, don't expect the Celtics to show any sympathy. This one's bound to be a bloodbath.

Yardbarker

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