INDEPENDENCE – LeBron James spoke of the “good vibes” surrounding the team, while coach Mike Brown felt a sense of “euphoria.”
And to think the defending Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers are in the midst of a six-game losing streak, their longest since a similar skid in 2004-05.
“It`s starting to feel good around here,” James said Monday afternoon following a full practice at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “The vibes around practice (are good).”
The reason – or reasons – for all the optimism?
Though he called himself “a game-time decision” for tonight`s game against the Indiana Pacers at Quicken Loans Arena, James certainly sounded like a guy who planned on taking his full
40-minute turn in the lineup.
That`s just the beginning. Anderson Varejao didn`t practice Monday because he was in Canada obtaining his work visa, but he went through a full practice Sunday. Brown said the power forward “looked good” and will be in uniform tonight if he gets back to Cleveland in time.
Larry Hughes, meanwhile, had 22 points on Saturday after missing 11 games with a bruised knee, meaning the Cavaliers are close to having their full complement of players, though veteran Donyell Marshall remains out with a wrist injury.
“The last couple days have been euphoria,” Brown said. “This is the first time we`ve had contact in a long time.
“It was good as a coach to look out on the floor (on Sunday) and see all your guys, minus Donyell. It was great.”
All is not perfect, however. Guard Daniel Gibson missed practice Monday in order to have a wisdom tooth removed and is listed as “doubtful” for tonight. Hughes would seem the natural choice to replace him in the lineup, but Brown hinted that might not happen.
“I enjoyed having him come off the bench against Charlotte and he enjoyed it, too,” Brown said. “That`s something we can always (continue to) explore.”
Regardless, the most encouraging news for the Cavaliers is the expected return of James, who has missed the last five games with a sprained left index finger. Cleveland not only lost all five of those games, it averaged just 82 points on .402 shooting from the field.
“It`s not good,” the 22-year-old James said when asked what it was like to watch games from the bench. “It`s not like I`m learning anything. I know how to play the game of basketball. (Watching) is tiring. I could fall asleep on the bench if I wanted to.”
The Cavaliers certainly took their share of naps without their superstar, but the fact they are about to be at close to full strength has them emphasizing the positive.
“We definitely can`t wait to get all our guys back and put the product on the floor we had at the end of last year,” Hughes said. “It will give us a chance to get going in the right direction.”
Added James: “Everyone is back now. We`re ready to start playing good basketball again.”
ames, who will wear protective bands on the index and middle fingers of his left hand, said the injury remains sore, but is much better than it was 10 days ago. The fifth-year pro then drew chuckles when he added, “It probably won`t be 100 percent until the offseason. I don`t have an offseason until 2009.”
* While appearing happy and positive, James did say he was disappointed with the way the Cavaliers performed in several of the games he missed. Their lack of intensity and inability to take care of the ball down the stretch bothered him most. “Guys have to be able to adjust,” James said. “There`s no promise I`ll always be out there.”
* Brown said Varejao`s weight and body fat are close to what they were at the end of the playoffs last season.
* If Hughes doesn`t start tonight in place of Gibson, the nod will probably go to Shannon Brown, who has averaged 16 points, three rebounds and 3.3 assists over the last three games but continues to make mental and physical errors with the basketball.
* Should Cleveland lose tonight, it will match its longest losing streak since near the end of the 2003-04 season.
* The Cavaliers won in Indiana 111-106 on Nov. 25 behind 30 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists from James. Cleveland also made 13 3-pointers in that game. Power forward Jermaine O`Neal did not play for the Pacers, but is back in the lineup.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or email@example.com.
WHO: Indiana vs. Cleveland
TIME: 7 o`clock
WHERE: The Q
TV/RADIO: FSN Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM