Cavs' success helps Love cope with struggles
ORLANDO, Fla. — Cleveland forward Kevin Love said the team’s recent stretch of success has helped him cope with lingering struggles with his role and health as the Cavaliers gain momentum heading toward the playoffs.
Love continues to deal with soreness in his back and found himself benched again in the fourth quarter of Cleveland’s overtime victory Thursday in San Antonio. But with the Cavaliers (42-25) having won 23 of their past 28 games to surge to second place in the East, Love said it’s no time to sulk.
The three-time All-Star denied that he might need a procedure after the season to address any specific concerns but acknowledged that he has been dealing with stiffness and recurring back spasms since November.
“It’s something I want to get right before we get to the playoffs, because that’s what’s most important at this point,” Love, 26, told ESPN.com before Saturday’s practice in preparation for Sunday’s game against the Magic. “It’s not something that’s — I’m going to have to address my body. But I address my body every offseason. I’ll go from my toe all the way up to my head to try to figure out how to better my body for next season. It’s not something that’s going to bother me down the road.”
Love has the option to become a free agent after the season or return to Cleveland and accept a contract that is projected to be worth $109 million over five years. He has offered no hints regarding his offseason plans and instead has focused on trying to find a comfort zone with his role on a team that has undergone multiple trades and roster tweaks throughout the season.
Thursday’s thrilling victory over the Spurs featured a furious fourth-quarter rally from a double-figure deficit highlighted by a career-high 57-point effort from point guard Kyrie Irving. But the game also marked at least the third time this season that Love was left on the bench for the entire fourth quarter.
Love did re-enter the game in overtime and finished with eight points, five rebounds and two assists in 33 minutes, but it snapped a 10-game streak in which he had scored in double figures.
Although February and March have been Love’s least productive months of the season, the team has been able to gradually develop chemistry as coach David Blatt has sorted through various lineups since Cleveland recently acquired Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Kendrick Perkins.
“It’s still a work in progress, but I think I’ve figured it out a little better,” said Love, who has leaned on advice former coach and executive Kevin McHale once gave him while in Minnesota. “It’s like McHale used to tell me: Just go where they ain’t. Just go out there and try to space the floor as best as I can.”
It’s been far from a comfortable process for Love, who would like a better balance of touches around the basket and looks from 3-point range while creating space for Irving and LeBron James to operate. Love has attempted 335 shots from 3-point range, which are the second-most of his career. But his 16.8 points a game are the fewest since his second season and the 10.1 rebounds he’s averaging are the fewest since he was a rookie in the 2008-09 season.
Earlier this season, Love and James clashed publicly over how aggressively Love should try to adapt his game to fit the Cavaliers’ preferred playing style. James suggested again Saturday that the process hasn’t necessarily been easy for anyone, including Love, because of all of the moving parts.
“I think it’s a work in progress for all of us still, probably a little more for him,” James said as the Cavaliers prepare for their final 15 games. “The biggest thing is that Kevin is very, very, very good basketball player. And in order for us to be very successful ultimately, we need him to play at a higher level. That doesn’t mean scoring. Everybody gets so caught up in scoring. We have enough scoring. It’s not about one individual scoring the ball. It’s about doing everything else.”
Blatt said the team should be beyond worrying about roles or playing time. But after seeing his team hoist 58 shots from 3-point range in the last two games, Blatt, in perhaps a subtle reference to getting Love more paint touches, said he would like the team to “try to exhaust the possibility of getting the ball inside” as opposed to just spotting up around the perimeter.
“I don’t think that needs to be a major concern,” Blatt said. “What needs to be a major concern is the winning and the losing. That’s what’s important; how the team is playing. Everybody gets their chance sooner or later. We’ve been pretty consistent about how we’ve managed minutes. So that’s not an issue with us.”
Love has spent much of the season trying to prevent his challenge of fitting in and finding a rhythm from becoming a distraction to the team. The recent success on the court has made the process far less of a hassle.
“Everything is easier when you’re winning,” Love said. “So you can have some really good games, and then some tough times. The rotation might be different. But as long as you’re winning, it kind of makes up for everything. And that’s the kind of way it’s been here.”
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