— CLEVELAND - Pardon the Cleveland Cavaliers if they’ll need two or three quarters Tuesday night to rediscover what playoff basketball feels like.
They’ve played none of it lately.
Sitting for eight days, they’ve held light workouts and watched the NBA playoffs unfold. Their wait has been so prolonged that LeBron James, Mo Williams and Delonte West must have wondered aloud if their season had ended, meaning they could head home — or perhaps take a trip to Aruba, Jamaica or some other port of call.
But the James Gang, rested as it is, can ill afford such thoughts, not when the finish line to a season that has one goal as grand as theirs isn’t yet in sight. Their goal is simple, clear: an NBA championship.
Titles aren’t won in the first week of May. With one round down, the road to the NBA Finals still remains as contorted and loaded with obstacles as it was when the Cavs began their journey last fall.
In dispatching the Detroit Pistons, the Cavaliers cleared the first barrier, although beating the Pistons, a team with a hummingbird’s heart, was more like clearing a 110-meter hurdle than high-jumping seven feet.
For the Cavs went untested in their four wins. Nor did they learn much about themselves en route to eliminating a team that had its vacation to Costa Rica booked months in advance.
So while the Atlanta Hawks, their next opponent, played a series that looked like a bloodletting, the Cavs rested. They gave coach Mike Brown and his staff every opportunity to study and analyze a team that needed seven games to move to the second round.
Like baseball, basketball is a peculiar game. NBA players see the season as a marathon, but they also know that too much rest can, in the grind of it, take the sharp edge off their performance. Players greet two or three days off with high-fives, but eight?
The NBA doesn’t have a history of layoffs quite this long. So who knows what the Cavs will make of their long rest. True, they might not be as game-ready as the Hawks, but the Cavs will be considerably fresher.
And fresh legs never hurt.
On the other hand, the Hawks might need triage to get through another series. In beating Miami, they took a physical beating. A football trainer doesn’t have as many aches and hurts to treat as they have.
The Cavs can’t count on those aches and hurts weakening the Hawks. That’s a fool’s approach to chasing a championship.
What James and his teammates must count on is their ability to squish every advantage possible out of an eight-day rest. They’ll need to carry into Tuesday’s game the same pluck and grit and smarts that earned them the best record in the NBA.
They certainly can’t resume play at Quickens Loan Arena with the belief the Hawks — bone-weary or not — will offer the sort of token resistance that the Pistons did.