CLEVELAND (AP) — Back from Boston, Kevin Love spent part of his day off talking to kids about fitness.
The topic was appropriate. The Cavaliers look in much better shape.
With four straight wins, including a 114-91 walkover against the Celtics to wrestle back control atop the Eastern Conference, the Cavs may be gelling just in time for the NBA playoffs and a run at a second straight title.
Coverage of Cavs vs. Hawks begins Friday night at 7:30 on FOX Sports Ohio
Less than a week after Cleveland lost three straight and five of seven, and just days following a heated exchange between LeBron James and Tristan Thompson that seemed to tear at the team’s fabric and prompted questions about the champions’ chemistry, all seems to be right with the closest thing the league has to a day-and-night time soap opera.
“We thrive under chaos,” Love said Thursday. “We always do.”
True, there’s rarely a dull moment in Cleveland, where every game seems to take the importance of a season, and where the city’s hoop team is anatomized daily like a frog being dissected in a high school science lab.
Now in his third season, Love has gotten used to the spotlight that comes with playing alongside James, but the All-Star forward acknowledged there have been long stretches this season where the Cavs haven’t been as focused as needed.
The criticism, he said, has some merit.
They’ve been the coasting Cavs, guilty of taking teams lightly and taking time off.
“It seems like there are times during the season — and it could be true — where we just say, `the regular season is no big deal,'” Love said, relaxing in a quiet room before he spoke with hundreds of school kids at an area Boys & Girls Club. “But l think last night and in the third quarter (on Tuesday) against Orlando, our pace of play and defensively, how we were moving and how we were communicating was so much better.”
The Cavaliers showed no mercy on the Celtics, demolishing the East’s No. 2 team on its famed parquet floor from opening tip to final horn. It was easily one of Cleveland’s most complete games this season, and while James insisted it wasn’t meant to send an external message, Love felt the victory resonated inside Cleveland’s locker room.
“We weren’t overly invested in that game last night thinking we had to win, that this is the biggest game,” he said. “But we looked at it as a great challenge for us and it was an opportunity for us to go in there against a team that’s tied with us for first place, and playing on a back-to-back, which we haven’t had a good record in all year and we wanted to play good basketball and we did that.”
Love acknowledged the team has been plagued by a championship “hangover” that manifests itself in short losing streaks and a general nonchalance.
Groggy and aimless for months, the Cavs may have finally found the cure.
“I don’t know when that hits throughout the season, but March wasn’t pretty for us,” he said, recalling a 7-10 month. “But at the end of the day, we’re hoping to look back and say that was a lesson for us and that we can’t let that happen again.”
With four games left in the regular season, it’s time for the Cavs to hit their stride. However, a season filled with injuries has a new one as Thompson, the team’s only true center, is out with a sprained right thumb. Thompson will also miss Friday’s home game against Atlanta, and there’s a chance he’ll be held out a few more so he’s ready as possible for the postseason.
Love stepped up with Thompson out and grabbed 16 rebounds against the Celtics. He was still feeling the effects a day later, but after delivering a $10,000 check on behalf of Foot Locker to an area club for winning a fitness contest, he still spent time showing the kids his skills and posing for selfies.
Things are about to get serious again as the Cavs attempt to reach their third straight Finals, and perhaps another meeting with Golden State.
That might be a heavy burden for some teams, but not one that rallied from a 3-1 deficit to end Cleveland’s 52-year title drought.
To Love, the Cavs are like those New York Yankees teams he cheered as a kid.
“I remember (owner) George Steinbrenner would just pull stuff out of the air and say, `This guy is going out or this guy is saying this in the locker room,’ and he’d stir the pot and create controversy,” Love said.
“Good food comes from a pressure cooker, I guess.”