INDEPENDENCE: The Cavaliers will reach the season’s midpoint within the next two weeks, and what they’ve seen thus far hasn’t been very encouraging. They’re 7-26, the league’s second-worst record behind only the Washington Wizards.
They lost Wednesday to a woeful Sacramento Kings team that has struggled on the road all season and was playing without two of its top three scorers. A loss at Charlotte tonight and they will have their fifth losing streak of at least four games.
Anderson Varejao hasn’t played since Dec. 18 with a knee injury that has been slow to heal, and he’s not expected back now before Jan. 9 at the earliest. Even coach Byron Scott conceded Thursday he is getting concerned with the amount of time Varejao has missed over what was initially perceived as a routine bruised knee when it occurred.
“I think we’re all concerned,” Scott said. “It’s taking longer than everyone expected.”
Scott maintains that the injury is in a delicate spot on the inside half of the knee. Scott last week denied a Brazilian report Varejao was dealing with a torn quadriceps muscle. Asked again Thursday if Varejao is dealing with a tear of any kind, Scott responded: “I don’t know. I know that he has had an MRI and it said that he has a muscle in there that is healing, but it hasn’t fully healed and it’s going to take time. It’s in a bad spot.”
Varejao and Daniel Gibson (concussion) did not travel to Charlotte, N.C., for tonight’s game. Scott’s rule has always been a player must practice first before returning to the lineup. Given the way the schedule falls, the Cavs won’t practice again until Tuesday, meaning Varejao can’t return before Wednesday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks.
The Cavs have struggled in his absence. Tristan Thompson’s game has flourished, but rookie Tyler Zeller has struggled. Zeller has committed 13 turnovers in his past four games and 16 in his past six. Some of those turnovers have been offensive fouls.
Zeller said the charges are rare for him, but he’s in foreign territory lately. He remained primarily in the post in college and caught the ball with his back to the basket. Now he’s catching passes at the free-throw line facing the basket and sometimes running into trouble quite literally.
“There have been a couple times where I caught the ball and as I turned, the guy is already there, so I can’t do anything,” Zeller said. “Other times I’m trying to make a move and they make a good play. Instead of me changing directions, I run them over.”
The coaches have told Zeller he’s playing at “a million miles an hour” and he needs to slow down.
“I try to make two or three moves at the same time,” he said, “instead of stopping and slowly progressing through the moves.”
He has struggled at times defending some of the league’s better centers, and Scott said he briefly considered pulling Zeller from the starting lineup.
“I thought about it,” Scott said. “Then I thought, ‘Who the hell am I going to put in?’ That thought lasted about two seconds.”
Zeller said after Wednesday’s loss to the Kings all the losing is starting to wear on him. Zeller lost 35 games in four years at North Carolina. The Cavs will likely have that many by the end of the month. Scott said the only way to prevent the losing from wearing down the players is to start winning. He said he isn’t surprised by the Cavs’ record because nothing in the NBA surprises him anymore.
“It’s more disappointing than anything,” he said. “We all feel we’re better than this.”
Leuer sent to Canton
The Cavs reassigned Jon Leuer to the Canton Charge on Thursday. It is Leuer’s second stint in the Development League. He did not appear in a game for the Cavs following his recall and hasn’t appeared in a game for the Cavs since Nov. 27.
Kyrie Irving remains fourth in All-Star voting and Varejao is a distant ninth in balloting released Thursday. Irving has 308,878 votes, but trails Dwyane Wade (765,077), Rajon Rondo (675,822) and Deron Williams (350,618) in backcourt voting. The top two vote-getters receive starting jobs. Varejao has 116,166 votes. He was a strong candidate to earn one of the reserve slots before this knee injury, which has forced him to miss the past seven games. That number will grow to at least 10 before he can return next week.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.