Charlotte Hornets

How age, injury has former Duke star Kyrie Irving shaking up his routine as a Celtic

Kyrie Irving’s return from injury is a huge factor in the Boston Celtics’ chances of winning the Eastern Conference this season.
Kyrie Irving’s return from injury is a huge factor in the Boston Celtics’ chances of winning the Eastern Conference this season. AP

Twenty-six sure isn’t old, but seven NBA seasons wear on anyone’s body. So coming off a season-ending knee injury, former Duke star Kyrie Irving is shaking up his gameday routine.

Irving’s Boston Celtics play the Charlotte Hornets Friday in a preseason exhibition at the Dean Smith Center on North Carolina’s campus. It will be Irvinig’s first game since surgery in March to remove a wire from his left knee that was part of a prior treatment. That wire was causing discomfort to the extent it was affecting his play.

With LeBron James leaving the Eastern Conference for the Los Angeles Lakers, the Celtics look like the favorites to win the East. But so much of the Celtics’ fate is tied to keeping Irving and guard-forward Gordon Hayward healthy after serious injury last season.

So former No. 1 overall pick Irving said Friday morning he’s tweaking his pre-game preparations after 441 NBA games.

“My routine has been pretty much the same for eight straight years, but now it’s time to do things that better suit my body,” said Irving, who requested and received a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Celtics before last season. “I’ll be here a little earlier, get my treatment a little earlier, be on the court a little earlier - prepare for a game that way.”

By the nature of what makes Irving so good - an explosive driver to the rim - the 6-foot-3 Irving draws massive defensive attention and that sometimes results in ugly collisions. Sometimes, Irvinig’s pre-game treatments have caused him not to be available to go on-court with the rest of the Celtics, and he doesn’t want that happening, particularly in a season with so much at stake.

“I can run out with the guys on time,” Irving said of the intent of shifting his routine. “I got tired of going out to shoot, get cold, and then have to get warm again. That change, in terms of my career, is pretty important.

“You see how maniacal I am about my warmup. I (want to) run out with my teammates and be ready.”

The first exhibition of the preseason is typically no big thing for a veteran, but that was a bit different for Irving, and not just because he was back in the Triangle, playing in the home of his college arch-rival (Irving and fellow Duke alum Jayson Tatum both showed up at the Smith Center in Duke gear). For Irving and Hayward (who suffered a broken leg early last season), Friday’s exhibition was a test drive of sorts.

Irving has been cleared for full activity since the summer, but pickup games aren’t the same as a preseason game (which also isn’t the same as the regular season).

“Everybody has a highlight tape from summertime, because pickup is pickup,” Irving said. “The difference between playing pickup hard and then playing in the season (is) hitting guys (with passes) where they want to be hit: speed of the game.”

Irving said he found time Thursday to visit Duke after the Celtics’ arrival. Though Irving played only one season for the Blue Devils, he feels a kinship to the program’s legacy and brotherhood.