INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) Cavaliers coach David Blatt walked across his team’s practice court wearing a black T-shirt that maybe best sums up his team’s current delicate status.
”Talent Ain’t Enough,” it said.
Not for the Cavs, who are facing the possibility of being down another key player in the postseason.
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Iman Shumpert, who has started the first two games of Cleveland’s semifinal series against Chicago for suspended guard J.R. Smith, could miss Friday night’s Game 3 against the Bulls with a strained left groin. Shumpert got hurt in the second half of Wednesday night’s 106-91 win, and while he has improved, Blatt said it’s possible he may sit out.
”There’s a chance of that,” Blatt said. ”The hope is that he’ll be able to play, but we need a little more time.”
Shumpert has done everything the Cavs asked so far against the Bulls. He scored 22 points in Game 1, then followed with 15 points and seven rebounds in Game 2 as the Cavs evened the best-of-seven series at 1-1. Best known for his defense, Shumpert has helped fill the scoring void left by Smith’s suspension and the loss of forward Kevin Love, who is out the rest of the playoffs following shoulder surgery.
With Smith returning, Shumpert will likely return to his reserve role. Blatt has always been confident Shumpert would deliver if given more playing time.
”It’s not that we need to see him in an expanded role. We know what he’s capable of. His role for us was what it was, and in a very good way and in a good way situation,” Blatt said. ”Going forward, we see Iman as a real important piece of what we’re doing here.”
After he got hurt, Shumpert told LeBron James he felt something ”pop.” He hobbled to the locker room, but soon returned and rode a stationary bike before re-entering the game. Blatt said the injury isn’t as bad as first feared.
”He’s feeling a little bit better than we originally expected and that’s a positive,” he said, ”but we’re monitoring and hoping that he’ll continue to progress.”
Shumpert and Smith joined the Cavaliers after a Jan. 5 trade from New York. Shumpert has since been Cleveland’s best perimeter defender. Blatt has said Shumpert, who will be a restricted free agent this offseason is unselfish, committed and always willing to put team first.
”He’s a basketball player that plays the game hard and plays the game right and doesn’t get in anybody’s way,” Blatt said. ”He’s a very positive and talented kid that everybody loves to play with.”
Smith returns after being suspended by the league the past two games for striking Boston’s Jae Crowder in the head in Cleveland’s series-clinching win on April 26.
Smith’s absence, coupled with the loss of Love, forced Blatt to juggle his lineups and rotations. He started Mike Miller in the opener with disastrous results, then switched to Tristan Thompson in Game 2, a move that swung James back to small forward. James scored 33 points in 34 minutes on Wednesday and the star was attacking the rim from the outset.
Smith is one of Cleveland’s best outside shooters and having him back will give the Cavs another weapon for James and Kyrie Irving to feed.
Blatt isn’t worried about the Cavs adjusting to Smith’s return.
”It’s an addition and a positive one,” Blatt said. ”To that, there’s no negative side. We’re getting one of our main guys back, a guy who knows how to play, a guy who’s been a big contributor and a guy who fits in with us.”