May 29, 2016

Mostly cloudy

Cavs: Brown is mulling over lineup

INDEPENDENCE — Cavaliers coach Mike Brown has some decisions to make.

Will guard Kyrie Irving play tonight in Orlando? If he plays, will he start?

If Irving starts, who comes off the bench? Will it be point guard Jarrett Jack, who has helped the team’s offense gain a fluidity it lacked for most of the season, or will it be shooting guard Dion Waiters, who has averaged 22.0 points, 3.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 39.9 minutes while starting the eight games Irving missed?

“If (Irving) comes back, there’s a good chance I may start him,” Brown said following practice Tuesday at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “I may start Dion, I may bring him off the bench. I’m not sure.

“Where we are, I feel like I can mix and match a lot of different ways. I don’t think it’s any different when Kyrie does get back.”

Irving, who suffered a strained tendon in his left biceps on March 16, went through a full practice and said he felt good afterward. A determination on whether he will play against the Magic will be made based on how he feels following a shootaround this morning and prior to the game.

“I feel good,” the 22-year-old said. “It was great to be back out there with my teammates. It was definitely hard for me these last two weeks just sitting on the bench, but as always, if I go down, I’m the biggest cheerleader.

“Our team has been playing extremely well. They’ve been doing some great things. I’m ready to just help them out.”

The team’s most-talented player, Irving leads the Cavs in scoring (21.2) and assists (6.2) and may not be under any minute restriction when he returns. If that return doesn’t happen tonight, it will almost assuredly occur Friday, when Cleveland plays a virtual must-win game in Atlanta.

The Hawks (32-41) lead the Cavs (30-45) by three games in the battle for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and will win a tiebreaker if the teams finish with identical records. New York (32-43) is two games ahead of Cleveland and will also win a head-to-head tiebreaker.

All is not lost, however. The Cavs have gone 4-4 during Irving’s most recent absence, making them 5-6 this season without the NBA All-Star Game MVP.

“The team just kept fighting,” Brown said. “They kept fighting defensively and kept trying to play for one another offensively. We’ve been trending that way.

“It’s no different when he gets back,” the coach added. “We’ve got to keep trending the right way. The ball has to keep moving. We have to keep getting the ball off the glass and looking to push the basketball.”

Irving, who tends to dominate the basketball at times, expressed confidence the Cavs will make a seamless transition when he returns, regardless of who starts.

“These guys trust me and I trust them,” he said. “We’re all teammates.”

The fact the Cavs are in the playoff hunt for the first time in Irving’s three-year career only adds to the guard’s desire to get back on the floor.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “I’m excited just to be a part of it every single day.”

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RickNoland.

Rick Noland About Rick Noland

Rick Noland is the Cavs beat writer for The Gazette and the author of "Over Time," a compilation of stories he's written in more than 30 years as a journalist. He can be reached at 330-721-4061 or Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.