INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — LeBron James shot left-handed layups and short jumpers at practice Thursday, but the Cavaliers superstar is not expected to miss any of Cleveland’s playoff games because of his strained right elbow and bone bruise.
James was re-examined Wednesday night by team doctors, who took more X-rays and an MRI exam that revealed the strain and a bruised bone near the elbow. James was not wearing a padded sleeve over the elbow at practice Thursday, but acknowledged it was more of a film session and walkthrough rather than a physical practice. He did sit out one portion of contact drills.
“The best thing about it is there’s no structural damage,” James said. “The docs have given me clearance that I can’t hurt it worse and I can go out and play. Maybe it’s a strain in the muscle or the tendon.”
Cleveland opens its best-of-seven playoff series against Boston on Saturday, and the Celtics are preparing for the same player who averaged 36.5 points against them in four regular-season games this year.
“He’s fine,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “If he goes three or four games and shoots left-handed only, then I’ll believe it’s hurting. We’ll be ready for the LeBron we’ve seen all through the playoffs.”
James’ achy elbow has been the focus since Tuesday’s Game 5 victory over Chicago, when he shot a free throw left-handed in the final seconds. He made the first foul shot with no sign of trouble to give Cleveland a four-point lead with 7.8 seconds remaining. But he said the shot made his arm go numb — a recurring problem the last few weeks — and instead of burning one of Cleveland’s two remaining timeouts, he missed badly after shooting with his left hand.
He walked around the practice court Thursday with his arm tucked close to his body, much like it was in the final seconds of Tuesday’s game. Cleveland hid the injury for weeks and no one would have known the severity of the elbow had it not been for the awkward free throw.
James wouldn’t say Thursday whether he regrets the shot attempt — and all the attention it has created.
“I’ll be ready for Game 1,” he said, “and I’ll be a productive player.”
The Celtics are expecting nothing less.
“If something’s wrong with his elbow, or any part of his body, he won’t play. We all know that,” Guard Ray Allen said, shaking his head dismissively when asked about the chances James’s injury would slow him down in the series.
The noise inside the arena Tuesday made it difficult for James to communicate with head coach Mike Brown, who initially was confused why James shot the ball left-handed. Although the arm could go numb again in the series against Boston, Brown said he will not address with his star how James handled the final few seconds of Tuesday’s game.
“It happened. We move onto the next play,” Brown said. “I can get into a whole bunch of hypotheticals. If we come across a situation, we’ll deal with it, make the best of it and move on.”
James will have daily treatments and another MRI exam next week. The NBA’s MVP has been wearing a protective sleeve on his right arm, but it will not require surgery to repair.
“You don’t want LeBron … hurt at this point in the season,” Brown said. “You don’t have much time for recovery. We’re concerned about anybody being hurt at this time of year. Hopefully everybody can stay healthy throughout the rest of this run.”
The elbow affected James’ ability to shoot jumpers on Tuesday, when the Cavaliers eliminated Chicago. He took just three shots in the first half and attempted two 3-pointers in the game. He hasn’t shot much with his right hand the last couple of days.
“If I am limited during the game, then I’ll be smart about it,” James said. “That’s what I was able to do in Game 5. I was very limited in shooting long-range shots, so I started going to the hole in the fourth quarter.
“I’ll be ready.”
AP Sports Writer Jimmy Golen contributed to this story from Waltham, Mass.