Kyrie Irving is back — does that put the Cleveland Cavaliers in the driver’s seat in the Eastern Conference?
That is the question being raised at a water cooler somewhere. Kyrie Irving surprised fans when he announced via Twitter that he was “back.”
The last time we saw Irving prior to his return was in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. After an undermanned Cavaliers’ team pushed the Golden State Warriors to overtime, a freak accident occurred. The end result was Kyrie Irving leaving for the visiting locker room at Oracle Arena, looking disgusted. He had already known what we would later find out, which was he was done for the championship round of the playoffs.
All of that work and effort, only to be forced to watch the action inside of the training room. Sure, the Cavaliers had LeBron James, but he needed the help of Irving, a top-15 level talent.
The end result is one many will remember well. LeBron James gave a legendary performance as Kyrie Irving joined the ranks of injured Cavs, Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao. Irving now returns and will have a couple of games under his belt before he and his Cleveland teammates travel back to Oakland for an NBA Finals rematch on Christmas Day.
As Irving slowly works himself back into playing shape, the Cavaliers can settle in as the clear favorites to run away from their Eastern Conference rivals. There are a few reasons why we should believe that the East is Cleveland’s to lose.
LeBron James is pacing himself well so far. Should LeBron stave off injury, Cleveland will be in good shape. Cavaliers coach David Blatt and his coaching staff needs to find time for the NBA’s biggest star.
As Kyrie Irving begins to work his way back into the lineup, LeBron James can take on an even lesser role into the playoffs. A healthy Irving is capable of putting the team on his back and lead them to victory. In his first couple of games, he appeared rusty at times, though that is nothing for Cavs fans to fret about. Things should be back to normal no later than the All-Star break.
When healthy, Kyrie Irving is the type of player who used his explosiveness to get to the basket at times. Coming back after breaking his kneecap injury should not slow him down. Like most point guards, Irving can dominate the ball at times, but there should be no pressure on him to make all of the plays for himself and his teammates. The injury may have made Irving a better player in terms of being a patient player. Somehow, watching a game from the sidelines, or the bench, slows things down. For Kyrie Irving, the games slowed down.
The Eastern Conference is better, but it is still bad enough for the Cavaliers to ease Irving into the rotation.
The conference lead is two and a half games right now for Cleveland. No other team has stepped up to stake claim as the team that will make things tougher. It puts the Cavaliers in the position of strength because, unless a major injury occurs, they will be able to work out any chemistry issues as Kyrie Irving gets acclimated with the team once again.
Lastly, Kyrie Irving will play like he has something to prove during the minutes that he is on the floor.
There was a sense of pride Irving when he came into the game Sunday. It was his first game all season. His shot was shaky, though he knew not to force anything. He let the game come to him. There is no doubt that once he gets his legs under him that he will regain his previous form. He took a baby step on Sunday against the 76ers. Kyrie Irving’s next step may come as soon as he steps on the court at Oracle Arena.
[Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images Sport]