Even though his team has clinched a playoff spot, LeBron James refuses to allow back spasms to sideline him during the final games of the regular season.
James and the Cavaliers look to move closer to clinching the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference when they visit the stumbling Chicago Bulls on Friday.
Cleveland (43-35) avoided its third straight loss Wednesday, beating New Jersey 104-83. The Cavaliers are in the playoffs, but came into the game having lost five of seven and looking to get back on track in the race for home-court advantage in the opening round.
Cleveland is two games ahead of Washington and three up on Philadelphia for the No. 4 spot with four games remaining.
“We needed this win,” James said Wednesday.
The Cavs star has been bothered by back spasms, missing two practices earlier this week, and was uncertain to play until Wednesday morning. The injury didn’t seem to affect him much against the Nets, as he scored 33 points with eight assists and seven rebounds. James was coming off a 17-point, 6-for-22 shooting performance Saturday in a loss to Orlando.
James said he expects to continue playing through the pain, which may be contributing to his recent scoring drop. He’s averaged 25.1 points on 42.5 percent shooting the last eight games, compared to 30.2 points on 48.2 percent for the season.
“Right now we’re a team where we need to catch a grove,” James said. “Me sitting out is not going to help that.”
James played just over 35 minutes Wednesday, and coach Mike Brown is hoping to make that the average during the rest of the regular season.
“It’s one of those situations where we need to monitor his minutes and try to get him as much rest as we can throughout the course of the game,” Brown said. “For him to play 35 minutes is great. If we can keep it around there, maybe under 38, then that will help him out.”
James will be looking to continue his strong play against the Bulls (30-48) this season. Although Cleveland is 1-2 versus Chicago, including a loss in the only meeting at the United Center, James has averaging 36.3 points in the three games.
Chicago was eliminated from playoff contention Tuesday with a 95-88 loss to Miami, and followed that up with a 115-83 defeat to Orlando on Wednesday.
Chicago led by eight in the first quarter, but the Magic quickly regained control with a 13-0 run in the second quarter and cruised the rest of the way.
Kirk Hinrich scored 19 points and Ben Gordon and Aaron Gray each added 13 for the Bulls, losers of three straight and six of eight. They’ve been held below 90 points in the last three defeats and will miss the postseason for the first time in four years.
“I feel like we’re not really playing with a lot of pride and respect for the jersey in front of us,” said Bulls rookie Joakim Noah, who had two points and five rebounds Wednesday. “It’s just hard because you can’t point at anybody individually, it’s just the togetherness of the team is bad.”