After the dust had settled from the Cavaliers most recent ten-point loss, this time at the hands of the Chicago Bulls, the team’s locker room was desolate.
Dion Waiters was long gone, having left shortly after the buzzer, walking boot and all. Not far behind was Kyrie Irving, bright red backpack slung over his shoulders — the starting backcourt remaining injured, allowing for considerable less post-game prep time prior to heading out on their respective evenings. Kevin Jones, the recently promoted power forward who represents the other end of the Cavaliers’ totem pole, donned a backpack a few shades lighter than Irving’s, providing a nice compliment to the baby stroller provided to him through the rookie hazing process.
While team communications folks, various coaches and a cavalcade of equipment managers scurried about, the two players who would remain in the wake were Anderson Varejao and Daniel “Boobie” Gibson — coincidentally, the only two men who were in Cleveland when the team lost 26-straight games, the same two men whom head coach Byron Scott will count on to keep the otherwise young locker room in tact as the team continues to pile up losses in the wake of their tough early-season schedule and injured stars.
“I’m proud of our guys — they’re battling,” Scot said following the loss. “They’re playing as hard as they can right now. We’ve got to play a damn near perfect game on both ends of the floor. The effort has been great and it was great tonight. We just have to keep working. It’s the only thing we can do.”
The Cavs actually outplayed and outscored the Bulls through the final three quarters. Gibson would be in the starting lineup this very evening; Varejao would go on to tally his 10th straight double-double following an 11-point, 15-rebound outing, placing him one more double-double away from tying the team record. But it would be the end result what would matter most to both men.
“I just want to win,” Varejao said with a tired sigh.
He would speak of all the mentors he had within the Cavaliers’ locker rooms of old, helping mold him into the player he is today. Once a guy who didn’t say much at all due to the barrier of having English as a second language, the Cavs’ starting center is now the team’s lodestar both on and off of the court. Continually praising the untapped talent that permeates the Wine and Gold roster, Varejao says that he feels like it’s his turn, he’s ready to help keep his teammates’ heads up, assuring that the morale stays as high as possible.
Gibson’s message, conveyed across the room from White Guy Row1, was not much different. While he wouldn’t have as much hair to squeeze underneath a ski cap, Boobie stated that keeping a positive mentality was “the easy part.” Pointing to the wall adjacent from his locker, the veteran shooting guard made it a point to show that this Cavaliers team still has 60-something games2 remaining and that no team in the league has played fewergames at home than they have.
As banged up as his backcourt teammates are — Irving still two weeks away with a broken finger, Waiters day-to-day with an ankle sprain — Gibson is nursing his own injury, admitting to WFNY that his right elbow is far from 100 percent. He is not permitted to bench press weights or do push-ups, he cannot use his boxing/sparring skills to help increase his endurance. But when cleared by the team’s medical staff, the 26-year-old is leading his team to the best of his God-given ability.
“I care a hell of a lot about these guys,” Gibson said. “When we figure it out, it’s going to be on.”
Until then, however, the only thing that will be on is Chris Grant’s cell phone, rival team’s inquiring about the availability of his All-Star-bound center; scouts working diligently on finding the next Cavaliers, relaying their work to the man who will be responsible for selecting them come this summer. This Cavaliers team is far from complete, but their safety net is sliced into shards of string once key contributors fall victim to injuries — their offensive efficiency has been woeful over these last several games, their defensive efficiency is worst in the entire NBA despite the presence of Varejao.
The Cavaliers would drop their 10th straight home game to the Bulls, a team that continues to not only have their number, but come to battle with more talent than a bruised and battered Cleveland unit. The injured stars would vacate the premises a bit earlier than their veteran leaders, but they are no less important to the overall success of this team. Byron Scott has confidence that losing, despite how perpetual, will not get his team down; the presence of Varejao and Gibson undoubtedly help him remain comfortable in this assertion. The fans continue to come in droves, but Leg Lamp giveaways will only work for a limited time. Right now, the young members of the Cavaliers who were not here two seasons ago when the team lost 26 straght do not know any better. It will up to Scott, Varejao and Gibson, however, to make sure that they all remain ignorant to defeat.
(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)