Since fracturing his kneecap during last season’s NBA Finals, Irving has been relegated to tedious rehabilitation and was expected to remain out until January. Though he declined to give a specific date for his official return to the court, the young point guard indicated that he felt that he had crossed an important psychological barrier:
“I think the biggest thing for me is getting over the mental hump of being able to go out there and still compete,” Irving said. “I’ve kind of been itching for the last few weeks, but finally getting my trainers’ clearance as well as our organization to go out there and practice with the guys, have 5-on-5, going up and down, finally being able to hit guys a little bit and have guys hit me, as a competitor, I’ve been itching for that.”
The pace of the final stages of Irving’s return picked up on Monday, when he was able to take part in a moderated practice:
“The first time I went up and down it was more controlled,” said Irving. “Today, there was a lot more up and down, being able to test my wind, being able to test my knee, going from offense to defense and translating and being able to get out in the fast break and being able to try my moves that I’ve been practicing. Kind of knock off most of the rust I’ve had. This is what this week has been about.”
Irving and fellow injured backcourt teammate Iman Shumpert both took part in the practice, including one portion that saw the two guards on opposite ends. According to Irving, such competitions have been a hallmark of the team’s best practices:
“Having Shump back there as well as going against Swish (J.R. Smith) and guys, different matchups that we’ve had, that has allowed our practices to be elevated is back to where it needs to be,” said Irving. “Hopefully that can continue over the next few weeks.”
Looking ahead to when the pair returns to the court, Irving invoked a wrestling metaphor:
“When we get back we call ourselves the Hardy Brothers. We’re coming full attack like the Hardy Brothers back in WWF.”
Shumpert was also expected to be out until January, but the possibility of him returning by the middle of this month was broached a few weeks ago.
Despite his injury history, Irving said that he wouldn’t play tentatively once he returned:
“If I’m putting myself in a position to be out there and I’m 100 percent, then I’m going to go out there and I’m not going to take any extra days off or take a week off just because erring on the side of being cautious,” said Irving. “I’m leaving it on the line for my guys and I’m going to continue to have that mindset and as a competitor. I’m never going to change.”
The Cavaliers will be playing a pair of road contests this weekend, beginning with a 9:30 p.m. ET game in New Orleans on Friday followed the next night by an 8 p.m. ET matchup against the Miami Heat.