INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- The rag-tag Cleveland Cavaliers are on the cusp of having everyone on their roster healthy and available for the first time all season.
Both Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert went through full-contact practice once again on Monday. While the pair is ruled out for Cleveland’s home game against Portland on Tuesday, they both will accompany the Cavs on their two-game road trip through Orlando and Boston starting Friday. Their return is, in a word, imminent.
Being fully healthy is a near unattainable goal for any NBA team what with the grind of the 82-game schedule. Even when Irving and Shumpert get back, Timofey Mozgov still will have his right knee to deal with and Mo Williams still has issues with his left knee, which he tweaked against Miami, requiring an MRI on Monday. (Results came back negative; he’s considered probable for Tuesday's game against the Trail Blazers.)
The point is, the Cavs are about to be as healthy as they realistically can hope to be at any point this season. And, after going just 5-6 in their last 11 games (including their current three-game losing streak), the boost in the arm from two able bodies couldn’t come at a better time.
“It’s not about talk. It’s about getting out and doing it,” LeBron James said when asked about the importance of the Cavs finally being whole. “We struggled at this point last year and we just hit a stretch where we just played great basketball, and I think it just came from we just had our full unit.
“Coach (David Blatt) found a great rhythm. Coach found the guys that he wanted to play and everyone was ready and it was a great rhythm. So we’ll see. We’ll see once we get full strength. But like I said, it’s not a waiting game. The guys that are still in the lineup, that (are) not in the lineup, they’ve got to play hard. But we’ll see what we’re able to do when we are at full strength.”
The Cavs, of course, sprinted through the second half of last season, finishing on a 34-9 tear after stumbling out of the gates at 19-20. The organization, knowing they were coming into the season shorthanded, has tried to combat the natural instinct to use that experience as a “get out of jail free” card in the early going. Just because they hit their stride last year when they had all the pieces in place doesn’t guarantee they can do it again.
“I think we need to have a greater sense of urgency regarding right now, not regarding what will happen in April,” Blatt said. “We need to get back on track. We were on track and we fell off a little bit and we need to get back on track.”
It’s a tricky balance of pushing just for the sake of pushing and keeping the big picture in proper perspective. Blatt, for instance, sat James out Saturday in Miami, causing the four-time MVP to miss his first game of the season; James had previously stated his intention to play in all 82 games.
“Coach told me he wanted to sit me out. He wanted me to rest,” James said. “He’s the captain of the ship and I was OK with it, so whatever. We’re running a marathon around here, not a sprint, so what Coach wants, we all respect.”
As for giving up on his 82-game goal, James said, “I also want to wake up with a fresh haircut every day. S--- don’t happen like that.”
Which was James, again, succumbing to the reality of the situation. Yes, in a perfect world he plays all 82 games, just like in a perfect world the Cavs hardly feel the absence of Irving and Shumpert because the rest of the roster steps up because they believe every game is of the utmost importance to the team’s ultimate aspirations.
But that’s just not the case. Just like it might not even be realistic to think that Irving and Shumpert’s return will solve what’s ailing the Cavs right now, considering they still are a relatively fresh conglomerate with less than a full season as a unit under their belts.
“Even though we experienced last year, we haven’t played much basketball together. I mean, you look at the Spurs, these guys have played more games together than probably all of us put together (have played) individually. And OKC. And you look at Atlanta, and you look at Chicago. You look at even with Miami, those guys have played so many games together,” James said.
“We’re still pretty much a new group. But we’re going to figure it out. We will because we have guys that want to learn. We have guys that want to compete and want to play the right way. And we understand the opportunity that we have. So we need to take advantage of it.”
That’s where Cleveland is right now. It has problems, but it’s about to have health. And with that comes the faith that things will be back on track.