CLEVELAND — A bruised knee. A couple games.
That was the diagnosis and estimate of how much playing time Cavaliers center Anderson Varejao would likely miss when he first went down Dec. 18 with what appeared to be an insignificant injury.
Turns out, it’s much more than that.
Varejao still has not been cleared to practice or play and will miss his 11th straight game tonight when the Cavs host Atlanta. The NBA’s leading rebounder, who banged his knee in a game against Toronto last month, had been expected to practice Tuesday.
However, the hustling Brazilian was not on the floor and disappointed coach Byron Scott said Varejao is not ready.
Scott, who is typically upbeat, seemed for the first time to indicate Varejao’s injury is more serious — and potentially season-ending.
“I’m still trying to be very optimistic that he’ll be able to play, I just don’t know when,” said Scott, whose young, struggling team is 8-28. “I hope I’m not talking like it’s long-term or for the season. I’m still optimistic he’ll be able to play this year until the doctors tell me something different.”
The 6-foot-11 Varejao was having an All-Star-caliber season before he got hurt. After he injured his knee, the Cavs rested him and even chose to keep him home on road trips so he could get extra treatment on his knee. The team’s doctors originally thought Varejao would only miss a few games, but the injury has lingered and could be something more severe than a bruise.
“I’m not a doctor and I’m not going to speculate on what it is,” Scott said. “I’m just hoping he can get healthy and he can play. Right now, my thoughts are with Andy. Forget basketball, I’m just hoping he’s OK.”
It’s the latest medical setback for Varejao, who is averaging 14.1 points and 14.4 rebounds.
Varejao has played his entire career with reckless abandon, but his all-out hustle has caused two serious injuries. He missed 41 games last season after breaking his wrist. Two years ago, he tore a ligament in his foot while running in practice and missed 51 games.
Without him in the lineup, the Cavs have been exposed inside and gone 3-7. Because of an assortment of injuries, Cleveland has had its full roster available for only seven games.
On Monday, guard Daniel Gibson missed his fifth game with a concussion and Luke Walton was excused from the game at Chicago to attend to a “personal matter.” Also, C.J. Miles sat out Tuesday’s practice with back spasms.
Star point guard Kyrie Irving, who missed 11 games with a broken finger and continues to wear a protective mask over his broken jaw, said it’s been tough not having Varejao as an offensive option, rebounder and defender.
“It’s disappointing,” Irving said. “Obviously for the second season in a row for me, I don’t have the big man that I started with. We miss his effort. And more or less his intelligence as a basketball player. When he’s not out there, we lose a little bit of leadership, but most importantly, we lose effort. We got 14 (points), 14 (rebounds) from him every single night. We miss that right now.”