INDEPENDENCE — Help has arrived. And so have the struggling but talented Los Angeles Lakers.
Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving practiced Monday and is expected to be in the starting lineup tonight when Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and the rest of the Lakers visit Quicken Loans Arena.
“It feels great to finally be out there with my teammates,” Irving said at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “I’ve watched a lot of games. It’s hard watching from the sideline.”
The 20-year-old Irving, who is averaging team-highs of 22.9 points and 5.6 assists, originally injured his left index finger against Dallas on Nov. 17, but the non-displaced fracture was not fully diagnosed until after he played against Philadelphia the next night.
The Cavs said on Nov. 19 that the 6-foot-3, 191-pounder would miss four weeks, but he ended up coming back in three.
“Our guys are excited to have him back,” Cleveland coach Byron Scott said. “He makes most of our guys’ jobs a lot easier.”
Cleveland (4-17), which has lost five straight and 15 of its last 17 games, was 2-9 without Irving and 0-4 without its starting backcourt of Irving and shooting guard Dion Waiters, who continues to rehab his sprained left ankle. Waiters also has a bone bruise in the ankle and was limping noticeably while jogging Monday.
“Dion’s still a little ways away,” Scott said. “(The bone bruise) makes the timetable a lot longer than we expected.”
The Lakers, who were billed as a legitimate title contender after adding Howard and Steve Nash in the offseason, have more problems than the Cavs at the moment.
Los Angeles is 9-12 and on its second coach (Mike D’Antoni replaced Mike Brown), Pau Gasol (knees) and Nash (leg fracture) are out with injuries, Howard hasn’t exactly meshed with his new teammates and 36-year-old former Cav Antawn Jamison is now starting at power forward.
“Obviously, they have the talent to compete for a championship,” Irving said. “They’re just trying to figure things out right now, as are we.”
Bryant is leading the league in scoring at 28.6 a game, but Howard (18.4 ppg, 11.7 rpg) and Gasol (12.6 ppg, 8.8 rpg) were not meshing well prior to the Spaniard’s knees acting up.
Nash hasn’t played since the second game of the season and backup point guard Steve Blake (abdominal surgery) is also hurt, forcing the Lakers to start journeyman Chris Duhon at the point.
Put it all together and the only time Los Angeles has been above .500 was when it was 6-5 after a victory over Brooklyn on Nov. 20. The Lakers have dropped six of their last nine games.
“I’ve got my own problems,” Scott said. “I don’t really watch what’s going on in Los Angeles. I’m trying to take care of Cleveland.”
Only 2-15 Washington had a worse record than the Cavs prior to Monday, so the Lakers’ struggles are relative.
“They’re a great team,” Irving said. “Everybody gets juiced up playing against the Lakers.”
Bryant, who always looks for a challenge, might be equally excited to play against Irving.
The two made a $1 million bet on a game of one-on-one while Irving was practicing against the United States Olympic team and, although they play different positions, it wouldn’t be shocking if Bryant defended the point guard in crunch time.
“(Tonight) I just want to get a win,” Irving said. “That bet is for the offseason.”
That’s not fine
Scott was able to joke about it, but he was not happy with the $25,000 fine he got from the league for criticizing the officials Friday in Minnesota. When he met the media Monday, he was initially flanked by assistants Nate Tibbetts and Jamahl Mosley.
“You can’t say anything in this league without getting fined,” Scott said. “They’re here to make sure I don’t get fined.”
Bryant became the youngest player in NBA history to reach 30,000 points Wednesday, doing so at 34 years, 104 days. He surpassed Wilt Chamberlain (35 years, 179 days).
Bryant was the fifth-fastest player to 30,000 in terms of games, doing so in 1,180.
Chamberlain (941), Michael Jordan (960), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1,101) and Karl Malone (1,152) were faster.
Bryant has averaged 23.0 points in 29 career games (26 starts) vs. the Cavs, against whom he’s suffered an inordinate amount of injuries.
Bryant played with the flu in February 2009, suffered a dislocated right ring finger in January 2009, sprained his ankle upon landing on Ira Newble’s foot in 2005 and hurt his right shoulder against Cleveland in 2004.
The Lakers won the lone meeting between the teams last season, 97-92 in Los Angeles on Jan. 13. Bryant had 42 points. The teams did not play in Cleveland due to the lockout.
• The last time the Lakers played at The Q was Feb. 16, 2011, Cleveland winning 104-99 behind 32 points and eight assists from Ramon Sessions. A little more than a year later, Sessions was traded to the Lakers. He is now playing for Charlotte.
• Los Angeles leads the all-time series 59-41 and is 23-27 lifetime in Cleveland.
• The Lakers handed the Cavs their worst loss in franchise history on Jan. 11, 2011, winning 112-57 at Staples Center.
• The last of Scott’s 11 seasons with the Lakers, 1996-97, was Bryant’s rookie year.
• Seldom-used Cavs forward Luke Walton averaged 4.9 points and 2.9 rebounds in 493 games with the Lakers, with whom he won two titles.
Former Cavs guard Mark Price (.903933, 2,804-for-3,102) holds a slight lead over Nash (.90351, 2,931-for-3,244) for the NBA’s all-time lead in free throw percentage.
• Jamison is averaging 8.0 points on .461 shooting and 4.8 rebounds for the Lakers.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or email@example.com.