INDEPENDENCE — If Kyrie Irving is cleared medically to return prior to the end of the season, coach Byron Scott indicated he will allow Irving to return to the court for the Cleveland Cavaliers’ final few games this season.
Irving has missed two weeks with a shoulder injury that was expected to take three to four weeks to heal. Scott said Irving got some shots up near the end of practice Monday, but still hasn’t been cleared to return. If and when that happens, coach and player will have a conversation about what he wants to do. Then there remains a decent chance Scott will allow him to return to the court.
“I don’t care if there’s one game left in the season and you’ve won three, it’s still all about the competition and trying to win basketball games,” Scott said. “You’ve got to take a stand in there somewhere in just your love for the game. My man Herm (Edwards) said it best: You play to win the game, period. I don’t care how many games are left.”
The Cavs have 13 games remaining, beginning with Wednesday’s game against the Boston Celtics. If Irving misses another two weeks, the Cavs would still have six games left.
“If he’s cleared medically and there’s still a season going on, I still have to see him in practice. Then after that, it’s sitting down and talking to him and seeing how he feels and going from there,” Scott said. “Just because there’s six games left, I wouldn’t say, ‘We’re going to shut you down and not play you at all’ when I know he’s healthy and capable of playing.”
The news on Dion Waiters is a bit murkier. Waiters did not practice Monday, although he did shoot free throws for a few minutes after practice.
Scott said over the weekend Waiters isn’t close to returning, which could mean arthroscopic surgery on his loose knee cartilage isn’t far away. The team, however, isn’t saying one way or the other.
The Cavs have lost five consecutive games to slump to the third-worst record in the NBA. They have roughly the same winning percentage (.319) that they finished with last season (.318). Progress has been difficult to measure because the roster has been ravaged with injuries.
The Cavs played 11 games this season with their starters healthy. They played just seven with their key rotation pieces healthy and available.
Tyler Zeller suffered a concussion and broken cheekbone in the fourth game of the season. The night he returned, Kyrie Irving fractured his finger. While Irving was out, Waiters sprained his ankle. The night Waiters returned, Anderson Varejao injured his knee against the Toronto Raptors and was lost for the rest of the season.
That’s part of the reason why Scott said recently one of the Cavs’ biggest keys is to simply stay healthy next season. It’s difficult to predict how differently this season would’ve been with a healthy Varejao and Irving, but the simple truth is the Cavs will likely finish as one of the league’s five worst teams for a third consecutive season.
“I think you have to look back at the beginning at some of our young players and see where they were then and where they are now,” Scott said. “That’s when you feel as a team that we’ve made progress. … Without the injuries, then you get a full understanding of how good we can be or where we would be at this time, but injuries are part of the game. You have to understand that and you have to live with it.”