One franchise point guard hopes to begin his quest to lead a team out of the NBA doldrums Tuesday night, while another will have to wait a couple more weeks.
John Wall won’t be able to go for the Washington Wizards in this season opener in Cleveland, but the Cavaliers are hoping to have Kyrie Irving available less than a week after the reigning rookie of the year had four wisdom teeth removed.
“It depends on whether the doctors clear me or not,” Irving said after practicing on Sunday. “I’m feeling good right now and we’ll just see going into game time.”
Irving, who averaged 18.5 points, 5.4 assists and 3.7 rebounds a year ago, was Cleveland’s highest-scoring point guard since Terrell Brandon averaged 19.5 points in 1996-97.
He’s become the new face of a franchise that has gone 40-108 since LeBron James left for Miami. Still, Irving believes the Cavs are ready to compete despite finishing 21-45 a year ago – last in the Central Division and one game better than the Wizards.
“If we come to play every single night, I feel like we can play with the best of them on both ends of the floor,” said Irving, who lost about five pounds after having the teeth extracted. “Whether anybody else believes that, it doesn’t matter. It only matters what the Cavaliers organization believes. I believe we are a playoff team.”
Wall, the No. 1 overall pick a year before Irving, was assuming a similar leadership role with the Wizards, but he’s expected to miss the first month of the regular season with a knee injury.
Washington will use A.J. Price and Jannero Pargo at the point for the opening month after cutting Shelvin Mack on Sunday. Price started six of the team’s eight preseason games at the point, averaging 9.6 points.
“Three guys have been fighting for that position, so we’ve been working hard every day and pushing each other,” Price said. “The coaches have been telling me to keep playing my game. I’ve been trying to bring energy and keep the team together.”
Wall isn’t the only prominent Wizard who won’t suit up Tuesday. Nene, whom Washington acquired at last season’s trade deadline in a three-way deal that sent JaVale McGee to Denver, is currently battling plantar fasciitis and it’s unclear when he’ll be ready to play.
That means the Wizards’ starting frontcourt will likely feature new additions Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor along with second-year forward Trevor Booker.
Third overall pick Bradley Beal, who averaged 11.3 points in the preseason, is expected to share time at shooting guard with Jordan Crawford, who poured in 49 points in two games against the Cavs a year ago.
Cleveland was already one of the league’s youngest teams before second-leading scorer Antawn Jamison left for the Lakers, and it added a pair of high-profile rookies in the draft in Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller.
The Cavaliers reportedly had their eyes on Beal but settled for Waiters at No. 4 before trading three picks for Zeller, Dallas’ selection at No. 17.
Waiters started four of the team’s seven preseason games, but shot just 34.4 percent from the field. Zeller averaged 8.4 points and 4.7 boards while coming off the bench in all but one game.
New acquisition C.J. Miles, who averaged 11.9 points in the preseason after spending his first seven years in Utah, should also see plenty of playing time.
The Cavs, who ranked 29th in the NBA in field-goal percentage (42.2) last season, are looking for a step forward from second-year big man Tristan Thompson. The No. 4 pick in the 2011 draft averaged 8.2 points and 6.5 rebounds last season.
The Wizards took two of three from the Cavaliers a year ago, including a 96-85 victory April 25 in their only trip to Quicken Loans Arena. Irving played only 10 minutes of that contest and sat out one of the other two meetings.
Cleveland center Anderson Varejao, who missed the final 41 games last season with a fractured wrist, has missed the team’s last six games versus Washington.