INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Even coach Tyronn Lue came off the floor sweating on Saturday.
Don’t think for a second the unbeaten Cavaliers have been lounging around the past week as they’ve waited for their next opponent.
“Guys have been really busting their butt in the gym,” forward Channing Frye said as beads of perspiration streaked the sides of his face.
Unblemished and seemingly unstoppable through the first two rounds of the playoffs, LeBron James & Co. finally know they’ll host Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals Tuesday night. All that’s left to be determined is whether they’ll play Miami or Toronto. The Heat and Raptors will play Game 7, with the winner earning a shot at the 8-0 Cavs.
Cleveland hasn’t played since May 8, when it completed its second consecutive postseason sweep, ousting an Atlanta Hawks team that was grounded by the Cavs’ battalion of 3-point marksmen. The Cavs dropped 77 3-pointers in four games, and they’re hoping the long break between series won’t cool off their shooting touch.
To combat any rust, Lue has made sure his team worked on its conditioning. They’ve been running and lifting and lifting and running.
On Wednesday, the Cavs endured a grueling workout supervised by strength and conditioning coach Derek Millender. The brutal, 40-minute session included time on a punishing piece of cardiovascular exercise equipment that left many of the players too tired to run.
“That was pretty tough,” forward Tristan Thompson said. “But I thought it was great for us because the team could push each other. It was fun. I thought it brought us even closer together as a team.”
The nine-day break could most help the 31-year-old James, who had to carry the Cavs a year ago. He’s averaging a career-low 23.5 points so far as Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have stepped up.
“LeBron is letting the game come to him,” Lue said. “When he wants to be aggressive and he sees fit to be aggressive when the teams have a good run or whatever they may have, then he just takes over the game. And with Kyrie and Kevin playing at a high level, he can take a lot of mileage off of his body and just kind of seeing and figuring out the flow of the game.
“I don’t think he’s been in this position before and it’s been great for him.”
After they quickly dispatched Detroit in the first round, the Cavs didn’t play for a week before their matchup against the Hawks. And although they won Game 1, it wasn’t easy. Cleveland blew an 18-point lead before making plays in the closing minutes and holding on.
With little margin for error, Lue doesn’t want any drop-off this time.
“We got tired,” he said of the 104-93 win on May 2. “In that second half we got tired in that third quarter. I went back and watched that game two nights ago. We got tired, a little fatigued. And I thought in the first half, as far as rust, we didn’t have a lot of rust offensively. We took care of the basketball. We executed the way we wanted to execute, I just thought that third quarter we got a little tired.”
The Cavs spent part of Saturday’s workout preparing for the Heat and Raptors. Both teams run similar offensive sets, so Lue and his assistant coaches gave the players a sneak peek at what they’ll be facing. It’s part of keeping them mentally sharp before returning to the floor.
Lue said he’s been watching the Miami-Toronto series, but not every second. He’s more interested in reviewing film of Cleveland’s games against both teams to see if he can spot any tendencies or weaknesses.
The Cavs won’t practice until Sunday evening after the Heat and Raptors conclude Game 7, that way they’ll be able to prepare for a specific opponent – not two.
Frye, whose role has grown throughout these playoffs, said the extended layoff has allowed the Cavs to heal some “nicks and knacks” and they should return to the floor renewed.
“We have a lot of guys doing above and beyond, staying focus, watching the games,” he said. “If you’re not focused now, hey, I don’t know if this is the right sport for you.”