INDEPENDENCE — The Cavaliers are back in town and Anderson Varejao is back in the starting lineup, but the team’s problems haven’t gone away.
Cleveland (16-32) went 0-3 on its recent road trip and has now lost five in a row and seven of its last eight as it prepares to host the Los Angeles Lakers tonight at Quicken Loans Arena.
“This is a big challenge for myself and for the team,” coach Mike Brown said Tuesday following practice at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “Just because of the dynamics and the age of the team, the expectations placed on the team and what we expect from ourselves, it’s something that’s challenging for myself. It’s something I haven’t been through before.”
Asked if that challenge has been bigger than he thought it would be coming into the season, Brown said, “I didn’t put a number on it from 1 to 10 and say it was an 8. I knew it was going to be a process. From Day 1, I never said we’d have it figured out by Jan. 5 or March 5. It’s going to take time.”
It’s taken way more time and been way more difficult than most expected. The Cavs, projected to be around a .500 team by most, are currently going at a 27-win pace, which would be only three more victories than they recorded last season when they had one eye on the draft.
“We have to get better,” said Varejao, who played 25 minutes and had 10 points and five rebounds in his return to the lineup Monday in a 124-107 loss in Dallas. “We know we have to do something to change this.
“We keep working hard and trying to think about the next game. All we can do is win the next game.”
Right now, the Cavs are not only not winning, rumors continue to swirl around the team.
One day it was a report that All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving had told people he wanted out of Cleveland, which the 21-year-old denied while the team was in New York.
Then it was that Dion Waiters had gotten unruly in practice. Then it was that Luol Deng was disgusted with the situation and would leave this summer as an unrestricted free agent.
“I’m not going to say I didn’t see it, didn’t read it,” Varejao said. “But at the end of the day, we have no control of that. What we can control is here, how hard we work, how hard we play. That should be our main focus.”
That’s what Brown is trying to drive home to his team. The coach plans to continue to start Jarrett Jack at point guard — Irving has moved to shooting guard, but still handles the ball a lot — and is optimistic Varejao’s return might provide a spark.
“To keep searching is something we need to do, and something I’m going to do,” Brown said of making lineup changes so far into the season. “The team has done a nice job responding to it. It’s part of the process.”
So is the return of Varejao from a bruised and hyperextended left knee that caused him to miss his first three games of the season.
“When Coach took me out (Monday) I said, ‘I’m fine. I’m feeling good. I’m not struggling or sore or anything,’” Varejao said. “I wanted to play more, but I
understand the situation.
“I’m getting used to the knee brace, getting used to the pain and everything. Overall, I feel great.”
The same can’t be said for the Cavs as a whole.