CLEVELAND — Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love wasn’t expected to return from left knee surgery until early April.
That timetable changed dramatically Thursday, when the four-time All-Star declared himself ready to play and was in the starting lineup against the Utah Jazz.
“Kevin is ready to go, and that’s good for us,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said. “We’re going to be patient, but we’re happy he’s here.”
Love underwent an arthroscopic procedure to remove a loose body from his knee Feb. 14. The Cavaliers struggled on the boards during his 13-game absence — posting a 7-6 record — but remained atop the Eastern Conference standings.
Richard Jefferson, Channing Frye and James Jones made starts in his place, which not only weakened the bench, but caused the club’s poor interior defense to reach new depths.
“To still be No. 1 in the East after going through all the injuries, we’re in good shape,” Lue said. “I’m excited to finally start getting our guys back.”
Prior to being injured, Love was one of five NBA players averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds. He is currently at 20.0 points and a team-high 11.1 boards, but no longer qualifies for the league leaders because of his time off.
The ninth-year pro also missed the All-Star Game while sidelined, preventing him from making his first appearance at the event as a Cav.
“I’m happy for Kevin that he’s healthy because we have a ton of respect for Cleveland and for him,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “That’s more important than trying to figure out how we’re going to defend him.
“But he does present a lot of challenges because he’s a great player and a tough matchup. He can beat you from the perimeter, as he’s done a lot this season, or down in the paint.”
Love, who is shooting .384 on 3-pointers and .876 from the foul line, will have his minutes limited in the short-term. Lue added that he will not play games on back-to-back nights for the foreseeable future.
“It’s going to take some time, we expect that,” the coach said. “Any time you come off an injury, it’s going to take some time to do some of the things he’s capable of doing, timing-wise and conditioning-wise.”
With Love back in action, Cleveland has 14 healthy players for the first time in more than a month. Small forward Kyle Korver (left foot soreness) was the team’s only injured inactive.
Korver missed his fifth consecutive game, but continues to be listed as day-to-day and is taking part in light shooting exercises.
Fun with numbers
Cavaliers forward LeBron James has a career-high 10 triple-doubles this season — five of them in the last nine games. During that time, the four-time NBA MVP is averaging 26.3 points, 12.2 rebounds and 9.4 assists.
“LeBron hasn’t done anything different,” Lue said. “He’s playing the same way he’s been playing. He’s been in great rhythm these last couple of months and playing well.”
James has 52 career triple-doubles, including 22 at Quicken Loans Arena. Two of the latter games occurred during his four-year stint with the Miami Heat.
Snyder takes pride in Utah’s excellent execution on pick-and-rolls, readily admitting, “I love running them, I really do, which you can probably tell.”
The Duke graduate believes good players can read what two defenders are doing during the play, but great players have the ability to watch three. He cites James as the latter.
“On pick-and-rolls, LeBron is the best — it’s artistic, really,” Snyder said. “He’s superior to anyone because he’s able to see people and deliver the ball with pinpoint accuracy wherever he wants to.”
- Center Larry Sanders was recalled from his one-day conditioning assignment with Canton of the NBA D-League. He made his Cavaliers debut Tuesday against Detroit.
- Cleveland small forward Derrick Williams (right quad contusion) was a late scratch. He had played in all 15 games since signing as a free agent Feb. 9.
- The Cavaliers begin a four-game road trip Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers. Their next home game is March 25 against Washington.