INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — You may have been surprised when Luke Walton’s number was called, and that’s OK.
Even Cavaliers coach Byron Scott seemed a bit taken aback — and he’s the man who did the calling.
But when Walton checked in during the first quarter of the Cavs’ season-opening win over Washington Tuesday, he was ready.
He had to be.
“I try to approach the game as if I know I’m going to play,” Walton said.
That’s quite a development, because Walton played in all of two preseason games. And let’s just say his minutes weren’t exactly boundless.
Instead, Walton appeared to be a guy on the edge of pro basketball, an aging veteran clinging to a contract that expires at season’s end. The fact he suffered from lingering back pain didn’t help.
Walton even admitted he thought, “If my back continues this season to feel like it has the past three or four years, this would be it for me.”
But the back is better (Walton credits a dedicated offseason exercise routine that he still performs), and he feels as if still has something to offer.
Clearly, Scott is with him on that one.
And honestly, if Walton is healthy, here’s the thing:
He’s the team’s oldest player (32), he owns two championship rings from his days with the Lakers, and he brings all those X’s and O’s in the playbook to life by keeping the ball moving and hitting the open dude.
“Put him on the court and he makes plays,” Scott said. “He understands the game extremely well. … If you pass him the ball and you move, he’s going to find you.”
Scott also lauded Walton’s defense, which is fairly unyielding for a man of a certain age. For a man of any age, for that matter.
Walton played 12 minutes in the Cavs’ season-opener, a 94-84 victory. He finished with two points and one rebound. Not exactly numbers that will inspire comparisons to young standout point guard Kyrie Irving. But Walton can’t be measured in stats and highlight reels.
Another thing to consider here is that Scott admitted Walton’s modest role could eventually be filled by third-year man Samardo Samuels. And it’d be a basketball miracle if Walton is part of the long-range plans. He and his expiring contract could even belong to another team before the trading deadline in February.
But for now, he plans to be here, help out the youngsters, and make as much of a difference each night as he possibly can.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been able to really enjoy it like this,” Walton said. “I’m trying to expend my energy and focus on what’s good now. We’ll worry about the future when we get there.”
• Anderson Varejao became the first Cavs player to record at least 23 rebounds, nine points and nine assists in a season-opener. He also became just the second NBA player to do it in the first game of the season since Wilt Chamberlain’s 11-point, 30-rebound and nine-assist performance back in 1967.
• Scott said he’s not worried about the low assist numbers from the guards. Especially since big men Varejao and Tristan Thompson (five assists) combined for 14. Meanwhile, Irving compiled just three and Waiters had none. But those two led the Cavs in scoring, with 29 and 17 points, respectively.
• The Cavs return to The Q on Friday to face reigning Central Division champion Chicago. The Bulls are without point guard and former NBA MVP Derrick Rose, who is expected to miss more than half the year following knee surgery. The Bulls defeated Sacramento in their season-opener Wednesday.