After missing three games with a concussion, rookie sensation Kyrie Irving is ready to play.
Irving will be back Wednesday night when the Cleveland Cavaliers look to end a six-game losing streak to the Indiana Pacers, who have dropped four straight and likely will be without leading scorer Danny Granger.
The NBA’s rookie scoring leader at 18.0 points per game, Irving has been out since he was inadvertently kneed in the head by Heat superstar Dwyane Wade during a 107-91 loss Feb. 7.
Irving made it through a complete practice Tuesday and was cleared to play by team and league doctors in the first high-profile case under the NBA’s new guidelines on concussions.
“I’m back to 100 percent,” Irving said following the team’s Wednesday morning shootaround. “It feels good to get back out there.”
Cleveland (10-16) won its first game without Irving before losing the next two as part of this franchise-record nine-game homestand. Ramon Sessions averaged 18.3 points and 12.3 assists while starting for Irving, but he’ll be coming off the bench again Wednesday.
“Young fella looked good,” Sessions said Tuesday. “He’s getting back in the groove. He looked back to normal, and we’re happy to have him back. He’s a key part of this team.”
Irving’s return certainly made coach Byron Scott happy.
“It’s good to have him back, no doubt about that,” Scott said. “The only thing I’m thinking is he probably won’t ever complain of a headache again.”
Irving’s third pro game was a bit of a breakthrough in a 98-91 overtime loss at Indiana (17-11) on Dec. 30. The 19-year-old guard recorded his first 20-point effort, although he missed a potential winning layup near the end of regulation.
Granger scored nine of his 22 points in overtime to lead the Pacers, who were one of the league’s most improved teams before this losing streak. Scott is using them as a model for his club since he believes Indiana’s success is a product of falling in five games to top-seeded Chicago in last year’s postseason.
“Once a team gets a taste of the playoffs like they did last year even though they lost in the first round, that experience - you come back the next year hungrier,” Scott said. “That’s why I don’t understand why people say we should lose games. Because I think with the young team we have, if we get to the eighth spot, that’s great.”
Indiana, playing the middle game of three in three nights, is enduring its longest slide since a six-game skid March 2-11. The Pacers trailed by as many as 35 points in Tuesday’s 105-90 home loss to Miami.
“Pretty embarrassing,” center Roy Hibbert said. “They just hit us at the start and we just weren’t able to recover. … None of us came ready to play tonight.”
To make matters worse, Granger left with a sprained left ankle late in the first quarter and did not return, finishing with a season-low three points. He isn’t likely to play Wednesday.
“Yeah, that’s my anticipation,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “I don’t think he can play (at Cleveland).”