You know how you love watching Kyrie Irving play basketball? Well, I've got some bad news: Unfortunately, you're not going to be able to do that for the next few weeks ... and perhaps even longer. (Ugh. Mondays are the worst.)
With just over two minutes left in the third quarter of the Cleveland Cavaliers' Sunday matchup with the Toronto Raptors, the All-Star point guard dribbled along the baseline, looking for an opportunity to get to the rim to extend a 72-69 Cavs lead. In the process, the 6-foot-2, 180-pound sophomore smacked into 6-foot-11, 230-pound Toronto rookie Jonas Valanciunas ... and the collision didn't work out so well for Kyrie.
Irving stayed down, clearly in pain and favoring his left shoulder, before getting up and heading to the free throw line; he couldn't even lift his left arm, taking his freebies one-handed (and making one of two) before Cleveland fouled on the next play to get the 20-year-old out of the game.
Irving's absence was felt immediately, as the Raptors ripped off a 10-1 run to close the third quarter up by five; Cleveland came back to re-take the lead late in the fourth, but when Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry authored some late heroics, the Cavs' top gun wasn't available to respond, and the Raps held on for a 100-96 win.
"I was afraid to touch [the shoulder]," Irving said after the game, according to Ian Harrison of The Associated Press, adding that it "still doesn't feel right." According to Mary Schmitt Boyer of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, Irving "had to have help putting a sweatshirt over his head in Toronto after the game."
"I was just unsure of what was going on," he said.
After X-rays taken at the Air Canada Centre on Sunday were negative, Irving was reevaluated by the Cavs' team doctors at Cleveland Clinic Sports Health on Monday morning. The magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and physical exams showed what head physician Dr. Richard Parker called a left acromioclavicular, or AC, sprain — the AC joint is what allows you to lift your arm over your head, which A) tracks with Irving's inability to raise his left arm to guide his free throws and B) is a total bummer, because it means Irving's not going to be able to take the floor for "a projected three to four weeks," according to the Cavs' injury update.
It could be longer than that, though. As Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal notes, though, there are only 5 1/2 weeks remaining in the season and just 19 games left on the Cavaliers' 2012-13 schedule. With Cleveland sitting at 21-42, 12 games out of the playoffs and hurtling headlong into a third straight trip to the lottery, there wouldn't seem to be a ton of reason for the Cavs to take any chances with getting Irving back into the lineup too quickly.
There's still stuff for Cleveland to play for down the stretch — the optimist would, as Grantland's Zach Lowe has, point toward the necessity of continued development for young pieces Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters, while the pessimist would, as The Point Forward's Ben Golliver has, cast his eyes toward getting back beneath the Washington Wizards and Orlando Magic in the standings to create optimal ping-pong ball leverage. Regardless of which side you fall on, one thing's clear: If there's any question about Irving, there's certainly nothing on the table worth compromising the full, healthy recovery of Cleveland's premier asset.
"I don't want to speculate and say, 'Hey, if he can get back he'll get back. If he can't, he can't,'" Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott told reporters on Monday, according to Schmitt Boyer. "We're just going to have to wait until it's completely healed and go from there."
"Completely healed," unfortunately, is something that more and more people are starting to think might be beyond Irving's grasp.
A toe injury famously limited Irving to just 11 games during his one season at Duke. He suffered a sprained right shoulder and a concussion last season, broke a bone in his right hand this summer, fractured his left index finger back in November, sustained a fractured jaw in December and hyperextended his right knee a couple of weeks ago. All told, he's missed 29 of 129 games since entering the league; if he isn't able to come back before the Cavs finish the season in North Carolina against the Charlotte Bobcats on April 17, that would make 48 of a possible 148 over his first two seasons.
While it seems a bit hasty to call someone injury prone before he's even played two seasons, Kyrie's medical dossier is getting thicker and thicker, much to the dismay of Clevelanders and anyone who loves watching awesome things happen on basketball courts ... and the latest ding might just mean no more Kyrie until 2013-14.