The list of Cavaliers on the injury report is almost as lengthy as those who are healthy and available. But as the team provides updates on two who will be out, one player is able to return.
The Cavs entered this week already without Kevin Love (calf strain), Matthew Dellavedova (concussion), Kevin Porter Jr. (personal reasons), Dylan Windler (fractured left hand) and Isaac Okoro (sprained foot, health and safety protocols). Darius Garland then popped up on the injury report and Dante Exum went down Monday night in Orlando.
Exum received some tough news regarding his injury, but it was also, in a way, a relief compared to early fears when he first fell to the floor with a non-contact injury. An MRI confirmed that Exum sustained a strained calf, according to an update provided by the team, and is expected to miss approximately 6-8 weeks of basketball activities.
Exum had been acting as somewhat of a spark plug on defense in the absence of Okoro and Dellavedova, providing the Cavs some roster flexibility to deal with the injuries. He garnered praise from coach J.B. Bickerstaff and several teammates for his defense on Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young in a Cavs victory.
Exum was acting as a glue to try to hold together the roster and help the Cavs’ improved defense. But he, too, will now miss extended time after carving out a bigger role in the Cavs’ rotation.
[Exum] probably had the best training camp of any. He earned a lot of respect. He earned opportunity,” Bickerstaff said on a Zoom call. “It’s disappointing for him I know, because of all the things that he’s been through in his career, all of the things that can be impacted in this year in particular. But, trying to keep him positive and it is a long season.
“Even though there is going to be that time off making sure that he’s doing everything he can so that when he does get an opportunity to come back, he can come back at that same level. But obviously, you feel bad for him, because of all that’s on the table for him and how he was playing with his teammates and helping the team as well.”
When Exum went down, the original fear was that it could be an Achilles injury, and a significantly longer recovery time. Simply knowing he avoided that was good news in the Cavs locker room. But it still means the Cavs will be reaching deeper into their roster for the next few weeks at least.
“I think — I know I did — all of us breathed a sigh of relief once we got back at halftime and Dante was like, ‘Guys, it’s not my achilles.’ Like, yes,” Nance said on a Zoom call. “It was great hearing it wasn’t what we all thought it was. In terms of — yeah, we all feel bad for the guys who are hurt but at the same time, Marques Bolden, Thon Maker, Lamar Stevens, Dean Wade, [Damyean] Dotson, and I apologize if I missed anybody, but there are really good opportunities coming up for guys that deserve them and will hopefully make the most of them.
“That’s kind of what we’re preaching right now. It’s just optimism for the guys who are gonna get a chance. And everybody’s gonna get a chance. We’ve got nothing to lose. Nobody is feeling sorry for us.”
An MRI conducted on Garland confirmed a right shoulder sprain after he experienced discomfort after the win over Atlanta on Jan. 2. According to the team, Garland could miss up to a week but will be re-evaluated. Without Garland in the lineup, it puts even more scoring pressure on Collin Sexton, who entered Wednesday’s game averaging 25.7 points per game.
“If it’s possible, [Sexton has] got to do more,” Bickerstaff said. “Not only does he have to be productive as a scorer, now he’s got to be an organizer. He’s got to be a playmaker, and he’s got to be a floor general as well. So we’re gonna squeeze it all out of him. But I know that Collin is up to the challenge.”
On a positive note, the Cavs can welcome Okoro back to the lineup, now cleared of his foot injury and the league’s health and safety protocols. Okoro was drafted as an immediate upgrade on the defensive perimeter. Especially without Exum, Okoro’s presence is a needed boost.
“I think the toughness that he brings and that competitive spirit that he brings,” Bickerstaff said. “The small things that he does that impact winning. We missed it while he’s been gone. And I think at his age, to be his position to play the style that he plays, and have that type of impact is advanced for his age. We’re excited to have him back.”
Ryan Lewis can be reached at [email protected] Read more about the Cavs at www.beaconjournal.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.