All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, who has missed the last eight games with a strained tendon in his left biceps, was examined Sunday by team physician Dr. Richard Parker, with the Cavs announcing Monday that the 6-foot-3, 191-pounder has been cleared to resume full contact in practice.
Irving’s status for a game Wednesday in Orlando has not been determined, but if he suffers no setbacks in practice today, it’s likely he’ll play given that the Cavs are fighting desperately to get into the playoffs.
The news wasn’t as good regarding center Anderson Varejao, who strained his right shoulder late in the second half Sunday against Indiana and did not return to action.
Varejao was examined Monday by Parker and Dr. Mark Schickendantz and has a right AC joint sprain that will sideline him for the Orlando game. The Cavs said the center’s status beyond that will be updated as appropriate.
Also Monday, Cleveland signed 6-7, 204-pound guard Scotty Hopson, who went undrafted out of Tennessee in 2011 and has never appeared in an NBA game, to the pro-rated
$2.5 million exception (approximately $1.3 million) for the rest of the season. The Cavs also have a $1.44 million team option for next season that will give them more flexibility when it comes to making offseason trades.
The Cavs did not practice Monday — they will return to Cleveland Clinic Courts today — but the clearance of Irving comes sooner than many expected. Irving suffered the injury March 16 and the Cavs said the next day he would rest for two weeks, after which the best course of treatment would be determined.
Monday marked two weeks from that statement, but Irving told a reporter while the Cavs were in Brooklyn on Friday that he planned to play this week. That could come as early as Wednesday in Orlando or Friday for a crucial game in Atlanta.
The Cavs (30-45), who have won four of their last five and are 14-12 since David Griffin took over for Chris Grant as general manager, trail the Hawks by three games in the battle for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Atlanta (32-41) beat lowly Philadelphia on Monday to also move 1½ games ahead of New York (31-43), which played at Utah late Monday.
The Hawks and Knicks own head-to-head tiebreakers over the Cavs, who have gone 4-4 in their latest stretch without Irving.
“We’re still coming out with that never-say-die mentality and attitude,” veteran guard Jarrett Jack said. “We’re just fighting as long as there’s season left. We’re going to keep clawing at it.
“I think what was best for us, I know me personally, I stopped looking at the standings and just started focusing on what was in this locker room. Once we did that, it seemed like the brand of basketball we were playing became more consistent and we gave ourselves an opportunity to be in the situation we’re in now.”
With Irving’s impending return, Cavs coach Mike Brown faces a tough decision. He will likely put Irving, the team’s most talented player, back into the starting lineup — that’s not an absolute certainty — and move Dion Waiters or Jack to a reserve role.
Waiters has played exceptionally well since moving back into the starting lineup, but he’s the most likely to be used off the bench because the offense has flowed much better with Jack playing point guard.
Reserve Matthew Dellavedova has also been good in recent games, but his minutes will likely be reduced when Irving returns, though Brown will probably try to find ample time for all four guards.
The biggest unknown is how team chemistry and flow, which are better than they’ve been all season, will be affected with Irving back on the floor.
“We’re getting used to each other, that’s been the key,” forward Luol Deng said Sunday. “We’re starting to use our strengths, using what each player can do. Our defense has been great. It’s just us maturing as a team. We just need to win. Nothing else matters.”
As for Hopson, he played in 12 games this season for Anadolu Efes of the Turkey Basketball League and averaged 7.2 points and 2.6 rebounds in 21.6 minutes. He also played in 11 Euroleague games for the same team, averaging 15.5 points on .625 shooting and 4.2 rebounds in 28.2 minutes.
Hopson appeared in three summer league games for the Miami Heat in 2013 and averaged 11.3 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 22.0 minutes. He averaged 12.7 points in 103 career games at Tennessee before spending 2011-12 with Kolossos Rodou of the Greek League and last season with Hapoel Eilat of the Israeli League.
The Cavs had a roster spot open because Seth Curry’s 10-day contract expired. He played in one game for Cleveland.