INDEPENDENCE: Now that Kyrie Irving is practicing and nearing a return to games, Cavaliers coach Mike Brown is facing a dilemma regarding his starting lineup.
Jarrett Jack is finally playing the way the Cavs envisioned when they signed him to a four-year contract last summer. Dion Waiters has equally been terrific since replacing Irving in the starting lineup eight games ago.
So with Irving returning at some point this week — either tonight, when the Cavs play at the Orlando Magic, or Friday in a crucial game at the Atlanta Hawks — which one will come off the bench?
It won’t be Irving. Brown wasn’t divulging much on Tuesday, but he did concede Irving will return to his starting spot — no surprise there since he’s a two-time All-Star, but a question that needed to be explored nonetheless.
He isn’t going to remove Luol Deng from the starting lineup, either, meaning Brown will be forced to sit either Jack or Waiters when Irving returns. Both are playing their best basketball of the season.
“I may start Dion, I may bring him off the bench,” Brown said. “I’ve said this before: I feel like where we are, I can mix and match a lot of different guys. So I don’t think it’s any different when Kyrie does get back.”
Waiters averaged 22 points and 5.1 assists in the eight games Irving missed. He played 40 minutes a night and shot 44 percent.
Brown initially removed him from the starting lineup because they struggled sharing the ball, particularly when Andrew Bynum was around and needed touches. Various facets of the organization pushed for Waiters to return to the lineup much sooner than he did and now want him to remain there.
As for Irving, no official decision has been made on his availability for tonight. He participated in all parts of Tuesday’s practice, and a decision on his availability will be made after shootaround this morning.
Irving sounds as if he wants to play, but the organization wants to go slowly with him. There is a strong sentiment to hold him out of tonight’s game, give him another practice on Thursday and then turn him loose Friday in a game the Cavs must win in order to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
“See what’s the best decision for me and ultimately I’ll be making that decision,” Irving said, then softened his stance slightly when asked if he believes he has the power to overrule the team if they want him to sit one more game.
“If I’m ready to go, I see no reason to stop me,” he said. “But obviously, everyone has their reason, as we know in this business. Obviously, you have a respect for it, but as a basketball player and as a competitor there’s an inner drive to be back out there. We’ll see what happens tomorrow during shootaround.”
The Cavs have fared well in Irving’s absence, unlike the first time they lost him this season. They lost two of the three games he missed in January with a knee injury, shot 35 percent and averaged 79.7 points in regulation (one of the games went to overtime).
In the eight games he missed with this biceps injury, they went 4-4, averaged 99.3 points and shot 48.3 percent.
They shot 50 percent or better in three consecutive games and four out of five without Irving — the first time they’ve had a stretch like that in four years.
“Our team has been playing extremely well. We’ve been doing some great things,” Irving said. “I’m ready to help them out.”
Anthony Bennett will not make the trip to Orlando and Atlanta. He was excused to return to Toronto for a family health matter. Bennett has missed the past 11 games with a knee injury.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.