CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cleveland Cavaliers swingman Isaac Okoro practiced Tuesday afternoon and is scheduled to return on Wednesday evening.
Okoro has missed seven games in a row due to a left hamstring injury. While he has been able to compete in shootarounds and individual workouts, Tuesday was the biggest step in his recovery.
“If all goes well, he will play tomorrow,” said Cavs coach JB Bickerstaff. “Of course we have to wait and see how it always reacts. He seems to be in good shape and we expect him to play tomorrow.”
Okoro’s possible status change comes at an ideal time for the injured Cavaliers, who are preparing to be without top scorer Collin Sexton for a long time. Lauri Markkanen and Kevin Love also remain in league health and safety protocols, putting a significant dent in Bickerstaff’s overnight rotation. Okoro’s defensive versatility allowed him to replace Markkanen at the 3 or Sexton at 2.
Sexton, who started the season with extra motivation after the Cavs and his reps could not agree on a contract extension, suffered a meniscus tear to his left knee during the road win against New York on Sunday. Sources say Sexton is getting a second opinion and further evaluation will determine next steps. The timeline for returning to the game depends, among other things, on whether the meniscus needs to be removed or can be repaired.
“It’s huge,” Bickerstaff said when asked about the impact of Sexton’s loss. “The threat he is, games come down to getting a bucket. Many teams change and you have to be able to beat your man. Collin is one of our guys who can beat his man and force teams to make different decisions about how they want to play their coverage and stuff like that. The competitive nature he plays with, how hard he competes and all those things, we’re definitely going to miss them.”
As was the case with any injury the first few weeks, it will take a team approach to fill Sexton.
“I think everyone just needs to take a few steps,” Bickerstaff said. “We’re not going to expect one person to get Collin’s 16 a night.”
The starting position changes. The closing group will also be different, still determined by what is needed and who plays the best.
Jarrett Allen, the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week who spoke briefly with Sexton, said the Cavs need to share the ball more and maintain the same togetherness they’ve shown during this 7-4 start.
“He’s going through a lot right now,” Allen said of Sexton. “When we hear that for everyone, but especially for Collin, we know how much he loves this game, he puts a lot of energy into it in his life, so seeing him is devastating to me. When a friend, as a teammate, see him go down, I know he wants to be here with us. We lose a lot by losing him. As a person, as a competitor, he is always here to give everything and that forces us to give everything. We want to match his energy. He will certainly be missed.”
Point guard Darius Garland’s usage rate will increase. This provides more opportunities to facilitate and make additional recordings. The same goes for backup Ricky Rubio, who got into the grid in the second half against the Knicks and finished with 37th best points of his career. The Rubio-Garland clutch gets more run. Together they beat the opponents by 15.8 points per 100 possessions.
Okoro will most likely slip into Sexton’s place – eventually. But expect the Cavs to limit his minutes initially. Because of that cautious approach, Bickerstaff will have to figure out whether it’s best to start Okoro or take it off the bench. That will be determined shortly. Either way, Okoro’s return coupled with Sexton’s upcoming stint on the sidelines will give Cleveland a longer view of Okoro as a shooting guard rather than a minor striker – the position where he was most used during his rookie season.
“We still believe Isaac’s strongest position is with the 2,” Bickerstaff said. “This gives him the chance to make minutes there and see him in strong positions again.”
Dylan Windler and Cedi Osman are also expected to get a raise within minutes.
Windler has stayed healthy since missing the first few games with a hip injury. He played double-digit minutes in each of the last three games. During Sunday’s win, the 25-year-old sniper buried three three-pointers. His ability to stretch the floor and thrive without the basketball is different from Sexton’s style. The Cavs have options. But none of them have his specific attacking skills for scoring.
Injuries derailed the Cavaliers last season. They’ve been able to overcome them thus far with a next-man-up mentality, rising from the depths of the competition despite a grueling schedule. Can they keep up this surprising start without Sexton or will this dark injury cloud cover the good vibes?
“I think that gave us a taste of how things are going,” Allen said. “I don’t think we handled it as well as last year. We’ve come a bit on our own. It was the end of the year. I actually just wanted to finish it off, let’s face it. But this year we feel like we have something special, and everyone is ready from 1-12.”
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