CLEVELAND — Kyrie Irving’s stint as part-time cheerleader and coach is finally over. It’s time for the All-Star guard to get back on the court.
Irving practiced with his Cavaliers teammates for the first time in two weeks Tuesday after missing eight games with a biceps injury. Irving took some contact during his first workout since straining a left biceps tendon March 16 against the Los Angeles Lakers.
"I feel good," Irving said. "It was great to be back out there. It was definitely hard for me these last two weeks just sitting on the bench. But as always, if I go down, I’m the biggest cheerleader. "
Irving doesn’t know yet if he’ll play Wednesday in Orlando, a key game in the Cavs’ playoff push. He’ll take part in the shootaround and then consult with the medical staff.
The third-year pro, who has missed 49 games because of injuries during his NBA career, said whether he plays is not entirely his call.
"If I’m ready to go, I see no reason to stop me," he said. "But obviously everyone has their reason, as we know in this business. Obviously, you have a respect for it, but as a basketball player and as a competitor, there’s an inner drive to be back out there. We’ll see what happens."
Irving’s return comes as the Cavs enter their biggest games this season.
While he was out, the team went 4-4 and climbed into playoff contention in the Eastern Conference. Cleveland trails Atlanta by three games for the No. 8 spot. After playing the Magic, the Cavs face the Hawks on Friday in Atlanta.
"I’m excited just to be a part of it every single day," Irving said. "When we talked at the beginning of the season, we said, `Aw, we need to figure this out, we need to figure that out,’ but now, as I’m watching the team, even late in games we get down 14, 16 with five minutes left to go in the game, and teams just can’t score against us in that last five minutes.
"We’ve learned how to buckle down. We’re finding ways to win and learning how to win. On the road — or at home. It’s fun to watch."
Irving doesn’t think his return will disrupt the club’s new chemistry.
"These guys trust me and I trust them," he said. "We’re all teammates. I’ve been staying locked in with them since I got hurt, which has been really important for me, and really good for my growth."
Cavs coach Mike Brown said Irving has contributed despite not playing.
"A guy like Kyrie can be a game-changer even if he’s not in uniform," Brown said. "Guys listen to him, guys respect him. If they see he’s engaged, it makes the team that much more connected. He’s helped in that area, in that connectivity."
Brown said Irving’s playing time might be limited when he returns. More certain is that the Cavs on Wednesday night will be without forward Anderson Varejao, who sprained his shoulder Sunday against Indiana. It’s not clear if he’ll miss more time.
Rookie Anthony Bennett was excused from the team so he could return to Toronto because of a "family health matter." He will not be with the team in Orlando or Atlanta.