The Cavaliers have become the Cinderella story of the NBA this season.
In a campaign that was thought to be a year of rebuilding — following a 22-win season last year — Cleveland clawed their way to the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference, which today would qualify them for the play-in tournament.
Kevin Love, who is currently the longest tenured Cavalier, has been the nucleus of Cleveland’s turnaround. The big man accepted a lesser role off the bench in order to help rookie center Evan Mobley develop, and has thrived in his new role.
“You know, I didn’t fight it,” Love told The Post about coming off the bench — a move that he discussed with Cleveland head coach JB Bickerstaff right before the season. “I trust in our team, I trust the front office that put us in a place to have success. And I knew that.”
Love was all in when the Cavaliers needed to utilize his skills in a different way. Not only is he effective in the role, but he also put himself in the Sixth Man of the year conversation.
“I was with him, and I trust JB,” said Love, who’s averaging 13.4 points and 7.1 rebounds in 22.6 minutes per night. “I was with him my first three years in the league [in Minnesota], and he was really the first guy that believed in me when I came into the league. So that trust factor is there.
“You know, when he told me, ‘Twenty five or twenty to twenty five minutes a night,’ for how long he saw me going out there, I said, ‘I can get a lot done during that time and I can help these guys, I can be an X-Factor. I can be a dark horse, an X-Factor for this team.”
The five-time NBA All-Star said there was a “four to six week period” of adjusting to his new role before he “was able to find myself in it and feel really good at it.
“So I’ve been able to really do that as well as lead the team, hopefully vocally, and they’ve accepted it really well. And they again have a curiosity about where they want to grow. They want to get better. They ask the veterans, they ask the coaches, You know, how can I get better? Can I watch more film? What can I do off the court? You know, we just have a team that has a growth mindset every single day that they can get a little bit better. And I think over time that accumulates. So I just hope to be a little part of that and play that six man role. You know, hopefully for as many years as they’ll have me.”
The Cavaliers clinched their first winning campaign this season without LeBron James since 1998 — and they did so with an injury-plagued roster throughout the season.
Cleveland star guard Collin Sexton was ruled out for the season in November after he underwent surgery for a meniscus tear in his left knee. Then, the Cavs lost Ricky Rubio, who was a crucial part to their turnaround, to a torn ACL in a December loss to the Pelicans.
The Cavs took another hit when big man Jarrett Allen fractured his finger in March, just after he earned his first All-Star nod. The team and Allen, who is averaging 16.1 points and 10.8 rebounds per game, are both reportedly feeling optimism about a return before the regular season finale against the Bucks on April 10.
The Cavaliers losing Allen allowed Mobley’s game to develop further, which helped his case for Rookie of the Year. But, the 20-year-old has been sidelined since he suffered a left ankle sprain in a win agains the Magic on March 28.
“The fact that we’ve been able to stay in a place of contending for a playoff spot, or be within that 7-10 [seed] range with all the injuries that we’ve had and the bad luck we’ve had with that, and a lot of missed games throughout our entire lineup, it just shows you where we’re at as a team,” said Love, who credited his teammates for stepping up to play big minutes.
“People predicted us to be within like the mid 20s, as far as the win column goes. And last year we had twenty two [wins]… So in terms of numbers, [we have] a winning season. But it’s just a testament to everybody from our front office, coaching staff, all the way down through all of our players just doing their job every single day and making it a place in a culture where everybody wants to come to work and get better.
“I think anybody that’s that’s been around our team, and getting guys like Caris LeVert or [Rajon] Rondo — guys that we’ve had throughout the course of the season have felt that this is a very inclusive place where we celebrate each other and just allow for freedom out there on the court. We want you to be yourself. We want you to play with obviously within the structure of what we’re doing, but also grow within that as well customized and for the team to get. So I think everybody understands the end goal for us.”
Love has no plans to slow down after the completion of the 2021-22 season. The NBA champion is set to marry his longtime girlfriend, supermodel Kate Bock, this summer.
“But I’m very excited because not only do I get to marry my best friend, but also we’ve established such an amazing life together,” said Love, who shares a Vizsla dog with Bock, named Vestry. “It’s going to be a celebration of the people that we have within our lives.
Although Vestry won’t be in the wedding, Love is keeping her busy with their new Milk Bone partnership to help launch new Milk-Bone® Birthday Cake Artificially Flavored Biscuits, which includes a birthdaystakes for dogs.