Opinion: Kevin Love is key to another Cavs title


Dan Armelli

Dan Armelli

With no deserving competitor in the Eastern Conference in sight, the Cavs are poised to make another run at the title this year.

With one championship under this unit’s belt, I expected the Cavs to come out to a not-so-hot start this season. Even with a whole offseason and preseason under new and improved head coach Tyronn Lue, I really thought the motivation for the Cavs this early in the season would be low.

And even though there have been moments — and even quarters — where the Cavs were blatantly toying with other teams and weren’t giving a championship level effort, they’ve been on a roll for most of this year.

Facing the worst team in the league last Friday night, the Cavs steamrolled the Dallas Mavericks by a score of 128-90, unloading their benchwarmers as early as the third quarter.

With the Cavs three games ahead of the next closest teams as of this weekend, they have too much firepower for any other team in the conference to give them any serious doubt about making the NBA Finals for the third consecutive year.

The question for the rest of the season will be if the Cavs have the firepower to beat a reloaded Golden State Warriors, headed by Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry.

The Cavs’ “Big Three” has been predictably leading the way for the Cavs, more as a collective trio than ever before.

Kyrie Irving is the first true threat LeBron James has seen to his hold on leading team scorer — something he’s done every year of his career.

Coming just behind Kyrie’s 23.8 points per game is LeBron’s 23.5 and Kevin Love’s 22.1.

Love, who spent his first seven seasons in Minnesota, hasn’t averaged 20 points a game since his last season as a Timberwolf. In fact, Love has faced a lot of scrutiny for “only” scoring 16 points a game the last two years as a member of the Cavaliers.

But with a new coach that knows how to use him, LeBron’s willingness to get his teammates involved and a ring to validate his skills as a player, Love’s been looking like a player who knows his stuff doesn’t stink.

The best shot the Cavs have at beating the Warriors is for Love to play the way he has lately, which has been the best he’s been as a Cav.

Love looks comfortable out there, as if he belongs. The expectations for this team are still at an all-time high, but last year proved that Love is a great piece on this team, and he no longer has to worry about not being crucial to the Cavs’ success.

This, combined with him being able to stay healthy, has led to a spike in his shooting ability.

Love’s lingering back issue seems to have subsided this year and — more importantly — he just recently subsided his hesitancy on three-pointers.

As the Akron Beacon Journal’s Jason Lloyd wrote in his “Finals Thoughts” after the Dallas Mavericks game, Love and assistant coach Phil Handy found Love was hesitating too much on his shots when, with his large size, he needs to be making quick decisions and movements when attempting long-range shots.

Lloyd said Love spent the last two games working on just shooting when he got the ball. The results, as he points out: 32 percent from three in the first 12 games and 71 percent against the Trail Blazers and Mavs.

Overall, Love is shooting at a 42.3 percent clip from downtown, on pace for the best percentage of his career.

Even without the supporting statistics, compared to the last couple years, Love looks like he’s meant to be here. There were a lot of moments when he would be open above the arc the last two years and he wouldn’t have the confidence to take the shot.

With a ring and film study, Love’s been catching and shooting with more flow than I’ve seen from him before.

I went to the Mavericks game on Friday and remember vividly Love making a one-handed catch from LeBron around the ankles and rising and firing without a break in motion for one of his seven three-pointers that night.

It’s shots like that that allow Love to improve his scoring ability and help the Cavs take their offense to the next level — a necessity for when they face the Warriors in the finals for the rubber match.

Dan Armelli is a columnist, contact him at [email protected].