MIAMI -- With the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs still up for grabs, the Cleveland Cavaliers are prioritizing rest over playoff seeding and held LeBron James (calf) and Kyrie Irving (knee tendinitis) out of Monday night's 124-121 loss to the Miami Heat.
The Cavs were also without Tristan Thompson for the fourth straight game due to a sprained thumb, and fell a game behind Boston in the race for No. 1 in the Eastern Conference. They dropped to 0-7 this season when James doesn't play.
Kevin Love scored 25 points after the Cavs initially listed him as questionable to play Monday because of an illness.
After the game, Cavs general manager David Griffin told ESPN that James won't play in the Cavs' regular-season finale Wednesday against Toronto because of his calf strain. Irving might play. James hasn't appeared in a regular-season finale since 2007.
"The most important thing for us is getting those guys some rest,'' coach Tyronn Lue said. "They've been carrying the load all season. ... It's just the right thing to do. For us going forward, if we're going to make a long run and deep into these playoffs, those guys being healthy is the most important thing.''
As recently as three days ago, Lue said he planned to play both James and Irving until Cleveland clinched the No. 1 seed, but he has apparently changed course after consecutive head-scratching losses to the Atlanta Hawks.
The first came Friday, when the Cavs lost 114-100 to a Hawks team that was resting all five of its starters. A loss Sunday followed when Cleveland, playing against Atlanta's traditional lineup, failed to protect a 26-point fourth-quarter lead and went on to lose 126-125 in overtime.
Cleveland's bench thus far has been unable to pull off the type of win that Atlanta's reserves did against the Cavs.
"Whether we're the 1-seed or the 2-seed, it's going to be tough this year,'' Lue said. "We know that. Whether it's first seed or second seed, it's going to be a tough uphill battle for us. If we get our rest and we're healthy going into the playoffs, I like exactly who we are and what we can do. That's what's most important to me right now.''
The Cavs' lineup management could affect not only their chance at the No. 1 seed but also Miami's chance of slipping into the postseason. Six teams in the East have clinched a berth already, and another six have already been eliminated, leaving three teams -- the Indiana Pacers (41-40), Chicago Bulls (40-41) and Heat (40-41) -- battling for the final two playoff spots.
Miami finishes by hosting Washington, currently the 4-seed in the East. Indiana hosts Atlanta on Wednesday. Chicago hosts Brooklyn. If Cleveland finishes No. 2 and the Bulls nab the No. 7 spot, the Cavs would have to play a Chicago team that went 4-0 against Cleveland in the regular season.
James played 47 minutes in Sunday's loss to the Hawks and hinted afterward he could miss the Miami game Monday -- the third time in the Cavs' past four trips to South Beach that he sat out against his former team. "I don't know the situation about [Monday]," James said. "I'm still kind of calibrating this one."
Irving played 45 minutes on Sunday, a game after revealing that his left knee "flared up," requiring him to retreat to the locker room for treatment during the game.
Cleveland and the Boston Celtics entered Monday with identical 51-29 records, but after Monday's games Boston (52-29) has a one-game lead over the Cavs (51-30) for the No. 1 seed in the East.
Cleveland holds the tiebreaker over Boston, having won the season series 3-1. Boston closes out the season with a home game against Milwaukee. The Cavs host the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday in their regular-season finale.
Despite just a 5-5 record in the past 10 games, Lue expressed confidence in how his team will perform when the playoffs open this weekend.
"I think we're ready," Lue said Sunday. "I base it on we're still the champs. We lost the game. We lost a tough game. But you see what we're capable of doing and how we're capable of playing. I'm not discouraged, and neither is our team."