By Ben Golliver
Cleveland's franchise player will be back earlier than expected.
The Cavaliers announced Monday that point guard Kyrie Irving, sidelined since Nov. 19 with a broken hand, has been cleared for full-contact practice on Monday and is expected to play against the Lakers on Tuesday.
Irving was initially expected to be sidelined for four weeks and miss 15 games. Instead, he's back after three weeks and, if he plays against the Lakers, will have only missed 11 games. That's good news for the Cavaliers, as Cleveland has gone just 2-9 without him and currently sits in the Central Division basement with a record of 4-17. His absence was made worse by an ankle injury to rookie guard Dion Waiters, which has left Cavaliers coach Byron Scott with a three-man backcourt rotation of Jeremy Pargo, Daniel Gibson and Donald Sloan. Not exactly a winning combination.
One of the league's most promising young players, Irving currently ranks No. 8 in PER among point guards and is expected to challenge for an All-Star spot, should he stay healthy the rest of the way. He was sidelined the last three weeks with a hairline fracture in his left index finger, what he called a "freak injury" and a "minor setback." Irving, just 20, broke his hand last summer, missed an extended period of time with a concussion last season and suffered a toe injury that forced him to miss most of his one and only season at Duke.
Scott will surely welcome Irving back with open arms. On Sunday, Scott was fined $25,000 by the NBA for complaining about the officiating during a recent loss. Earlier this season, Scott said that his team, save Anderson Varejao, "sucked" during another loss.
Irving, 20, is averaging a team-high 22.9 points, 5.6 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 35.2 minutes per game this season. The Lakers will enter Quicken Loans Arena with a record of 9-12. They are expected to be without two point guards of their own, Steve Nash and Steve Blake, although Nash could return from a leg injury sometime this week. Blake is out for months following surgery on his abdomen.