CLEVELAND (AP) — Sitting and watching his teammates play was torture for Kyrie Irving. Seeing the Cavaliers lose made it worse.
Back earlier than expected, Irving was cleared to practice after missing 11 games with a broken left finger and the star point guard will likely play Tuesday night when Cleveland hosts the struggling Los Angeles Lakers.
"It's been very difficult," Irving said after Monday's practice. "But I've gotten a chance to really break down the game and it's given me a chance to get a different outlook being on the sideline. I'm really happy to be out there and be competing again."
The Cavs are thrilled to have him back.
Cleveland went just 2-9 without last season's rookie of the year, who broke his finger Nov. 17 in a game against Dallas. He played the following night at Philadelphia before medical tests revealed a non-displaced fracture. The Cavs thought Irving would be out for at least one month, but he's returning after just three weeks. Irving will play with a protective splint on his finger, but said the brace won't affect his play.
While he was sidelined, Irving kept in shape with cardio workouts he says he won't miss.
"They were killing me behind the scenes," he said. "I definitely stayed in shape over the last two weeks. I needed it and it felt good."
With the Cavs just 4-17 and riding a five-game losing streak, coach Byron Scott said the news that Irving was ready to return was just what the team needed.
"I think all the guys are looking forward to having him back out there because he does make most of our guys' jobs a lot easier because he can create so much for himself and for his teammates," Scott said.
There's no doubt the Cavs will benefit having Irving's 22.9 points and 5.6 assists per game back in their lineup. They lacked his floor leadership and especially someone to take over games in the fourth quarter.
They were just 2-8 with Irving and one game worse than that without him.
"We've got to get better," Scott said. "That's the bottom line. We've just got to get better. We did some good things the last two games on the defensive end. We didn't do a lot of good things on the offensive end, per se. But we made some progress in certain areas we wanted to. It's just a matter now of trying to make sure we get a little bit better each month."
While the Cavs are getting Irving back, they're still without rookie guard Dion Waiters, who has missed four games with a sprained left ankle and will sit against the Lakers.
Scott said Waiters also has a bone bruise and is "still a little ways away."
"He's just now starting to do some running," Scott said. "If it was a regular ankle sprain, he probably would have been able to practice, but the bone bruise obviously makes it a little more difficult for it to heal. It's going to take a little time."