DALLAS -- As Kyrie Irving prepared to play the 10th game of his comeback after being sidelined for nearly 6½ months following surgery to repair a fractured left kneecap, he wanted to express his appreciation for a couple of his teammates on the Cleveland Cavaliers who held down the fort in his absence.
“Kev and Bron have done an unbelievable job of leading the team for, basically, I’ve played in nine games so the … 26 other games I didn’t play in,” Irving said of Kevin Love and LeBron James after the Cavs held practice at the Mo Williams Academy on Monday. “So, you know, I just try to kind of just fit in. But also there are games where they’re telling me, ‘Come on, be aggressive. Come on, be yourself.’
“And then I just have to find that balance that we had last year where we had that continuity between the three of us and then it trickles down throughout the team because when we’re all clicking, man, it just opens up so many other opportunities for other people.”
The Cavs’ big three adopted a new workout routine prior to Cleveland’s game in Minnesota last week, with the trio showing up early to the team’s morning shootaround session to go through drills together. Irving said it was the first time he, James and Love had collaborated like that all season and he hopes it will continue.
“I know that all three of us share our own work ethic in what we do to prepare for games and what we do in our spare time in order to get prepared [either] the night before or I’m usually there either the night before or the day of,” Irving said. “And I know Bron does an incredible job of getting extra shots up all the time.
“So, for us, all three of us being the leaders of the team, it can only be positive. It was a big-time game for Kev that night and we all felt it. So, him coming in early, hopefully it can show some consistency with all three of us.
“It’s good to see all of us coming in and getting extra work in.”
Irving started off the Cavs’ current six-game road trip with a big-time game of his own, scoring 32 points on 14-of-22 shooting during a win in Washington. The two games that have followed produced the same result for the team -- Cleveland beat Minnesota and Philadelphia to extend their winning streak to seven games heading into Tuesday’s showdown in Dallas -- but have been a bit of a rough patch for Irving personally. He scored just 21 points on 8-for-27 shooting (2-for-9 from 3) combined against the Wolves and Sixers.
Asked if he still is working his way back to form, Irving said, “I am. I know I am. But it’s not hovering over the team. And I would never allow it to. There are things that I still have to figure out, but it’s still within the framework of the team. And that’s the way I want it to be.”
The Cavs will play the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday, an occasion that will surely conjure up memories of Irving scoring a career-high 57 points last season -- the most ever by a visiting player at the AT&T Center. But he insists he isn’t putting pressure on himself to make a bevy of buckets every night.
“The games are going to be different,” Irving said. “It’s not every night I’m looking to score 32, or have the ‘unbelievable’ game. That’s not what I’m looking to do. Whatever my team needs me to do going into those four quarters, however many minutes I play, I’m going to do. Every game can’t be like Washington, as much as we would love it to. But as professionals, that’s why it’s a team. It’s a team sport. You let that selfishness go and just do whatever is best.”
Irving said people close to him try to give him perspective, reminding him that he made his season debut about three weeks ago, so he essentially still is going through training camp. Yet he can’t help but want more.
“I just put so much expectations on myself when I go out there, it feels like there’s a lot of ground that I have to make up and a lot more that I have to prove to myself more or less” Irving said. “When you miss the game for seven months and then you come back, it’s just like, ‘I’ve got to make every shot.’ Like, I have to play well every game.
“For me, it’s just about progressing. And, damn, still going 3-for-15 [against Philadelphia] sucks. But at the end of the day, we’re still winning.”