Kevin Love returned to the Cavaliers' lineup on Thursday, a little more than four weeks after undergoing a surgical procedure on his left knee, and had 10 points and nine rebounds while LeBron James lifted the Cavs to a win. Love may be on a minutes restriction — he played just 20 — and he may not yet be cleared to play in both games of a back-to-back set. But getting him back in any capacity is huge for Cleveland with a month left to go in the regular season.
Here are three ways that Love's return immediately helps the Cavs:
Love is a versatile offensive weapon for the Cavaliers who can score from anywhere on the floor, but he's especially deadly from 3-point distance.
Love entered Thursday shooting 38.4 percent from beyond the arc this season, which is the second-best mark of his career. And while he was 0 for 3 against Utah, his mere presence on the court draws the opposing big men out of the paint, which creates more space around the rim for Kyrie Irving and LeBron on drives to the basket.
The Cavaliers were just 7-6 while Love was out of the lineup, and the rebounding issues were glaring in the bulk of those contests. Cleveland was outrebounded by 14 in Sunday's loss to the Rockets, and a Celtics team that ranks 27th in the league in that category won the battle of the boards in a March 1 win over the Cavs.
Love entered Thursday averaging 11.1 rebounds, and his nine boards against Utah helped provide a 52-48 rebounding edge.
LeBron gets a teammate he knows he can trust
The Cavaliers have added some players in recent weeks in an attempt to improve the overall depth on the roster, but down the stretch in a tight game, LeBron would prefer to play with guys he knows he can trust.
Deron Williams and Derrick Williams have both seen crunch time minutes over the past couple of weeks, with mostly unfavorable results.
Love is now in his third season in Cleveland, returned to the All-Star team this year, and won a title with the Cavs in 2016. LeBron getting that type of help back in time for the playoffs should make the Cavaliers the favorites to repeat as champions.