Cavs close to having entire team healthy

Chris Beaven

Six-game losing streaks tend to do bad things to NBA teams.

Fingers point, tempers flare and panic often sets in.

So why were the Cavaliers -- mired in their longest losing streak in two seasons -- all smiles Monday?

They know for the first time since the NBA Finals last June they are close to having their full team back together when they host Indiana tonight at 7.

Head Coach Mike Brown went as far as saying he was “euphoric” Sunday when the Cavaliers actually had a full-contact practice with nearly the entire team available.

“It was good (Sunday) to be out there as a coach and look out on the floor and see all of your guys, except ... Donyell (Marshall),” Brown said.

Marshall remains out with a wrist injury.

But with forward Anderson Varejao ending his contract dispute last week, Larry Hughes back from an injury and LeBron James set to return from an injury perhaps as soon as tonight, the Cavs are as close to full strength as they’ve been all season.

“It’s nice to see,” said center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, one of just four Cavs to play in all 21 games this season. “This team is starting to look like the team that went to the finals last year. We have the same personnel to do it again.”

Of course, this being a season where injuries pop up seemingly at any time, the Cavs might be minus a different starter tonight. Point guard Daniel Gibson is doubtful after his wisdom teeth flared up on him Monday. But not even that could dampen the mood Monday.

“It’s starting to feel good around here,” James said after his second full practice with contact in as many days. “Everyone is back now ... so we’re ready to start playing good basketball again.”

James is a game-time decision for tonight’s game.

The Cavs were playing solid basketball before he sprained his left index finger almost two weeks ago. Despite missing as many as three or four rotation players on any given night, they were off to a 9-6 start. James was playing at an MVP level and still leads the league in scoring.

The Cavaliers were riding a four-game winning streak and coming off a big win over Boston when James got hurt at Detroit the next night. He missed the second half and the Cavs got routed. They dropped the next five without James, getting blown out several times.

“We don’t like to lose, but at the same point, no one was low,” James said.

The team understood it was short-handed and that things could turn around soon. Not that everything can be dismissed by James simply being injured.

“Defensively we struggled,” James said. “You have mental lapses offensively, but you can’t have those defensively, no matter who’s playing. And we had a couple of games where we just didn’t give effort.”

The Cavs gave plenty of effort in their last game, a loss at Charlotte on Saturday, but didn’t always play smart. They had 27 turnovers.

But Brown, in his third year with essentially this core group of players, knows he has a resilient bunch.

“The one thing this team has never really done, is it’s never really gotten discouraged,” he said.

“We’re learning and we’re growing with some young guys on the floor. Some guys that haven’t played before. And they’re doing a heckuva job.

“We just made some mistakes, especially down the stretch, that we normally don’t make when you have some veteran guys on the floor together in that situation.”

Hughes said the team, “can’t wait to put the product that we had out there on the floor last year.

“It gives us a chance to get this thing going in the right direction.”

Hughes has been around the league long enough to know a losing streak in early December can be long forgotten by the New Year.

“You play so many games back to back ... you can get a rhythm,” Hughes said. “And that’s really all it takes; to get a hot streak and go (win) six or seven games in a row, and then things start happening from there.”

Banged-up Cavs

The Cavaliers have yet to play a game this season with all their core players from a year ago. It will be some time before they do, with Donyell Marshall out with a wrist injury. Here’s a look at the injuries and other factors that have cost players games this season:

Larry Hughes: Missed stretches of three games and 11 games with a deep bone bruise in his left leg.

LeBron James: Missed last five games with a sprained left index finger.

Donyell Marshall: Missed the last 19 games with a sprained right wrist and remains listed as out.

Sasha Pavlovic: Missed first two games because of a contract dispute that cost him all of training camp. Missed one game with back spasms.

Cedric Simmons: Listed inactive the past 11 games because of left ankle sprain.

Eric Snow: Missed the first 11 games as he recovered from surgery Oct. 2 on his left knee.

Anderson Varejao: Missed the first 21 games because of a contract dispute.

The Repository