Love has Cavs feeling good entering game vs. Grizzlies
This was the way it was supposed to be for the Cleveland Cavaliers:
Kevin Love spreading the offense and hitting 3s. Kevin Love rebounding, giving his teammates second chances. Kevin Love making the perfect pass to give his teammates wide-open shots.
A toe injury waylaid those plans. Three games after missing 51 games, Love is back in the lineup and Cleveland can see what it missed on its way to playing for a likely lottery pick in the NBA draft.
Cleveland opened the second half of its season with a 111-98 win over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday with Love providing the spark with 16 points and 11 rebounds in 22 minutes. The Cavs can make it two straight on Saturday when they play host to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Memphis, on the other hand, is dealing with a significant injury of its own.
The Grizzlies opened their second half Friday night falling 112-106 to the visiting Los Angeles Clippers. Losers of 15 of 19, the Grizzlies also opened their second half without star rookie Jaren Jackson Jr.
The No. 4 overall pick in the 2018 draft, Jackson has what the team is calling a deep thigh bruise and will be out indefinitely. The 19-year-old Michigan State product had missed just one game as a pro before Friday, sitting out a Feb. 1 loss at Charlotte due to the same quad issue.
Through 58 games (56 starts) this season, Jackson is averaging 13.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks in 26.1 minutes per game. He produced 10 points and six rebounds for Team USA in the Rising Stars game Feb. 15 during All-Star Weekend.
As recently as last week, the Grizzlies announced they intended to make Jackson a bigger focus of their plans after the All-Star break.
Now, the Grizzlies will have to focus on the Cavs without Jackson. And the focus will be most intense on Love.
"(Love) is a go-to guy," Cleveland coach Larry Drew told newsherald.com. "We put it in his hands, particularly down on the block. Other guys can play off him. We haven't had that luxury all year.
"Not taking anything away from the rest of our guys, but that's who Kevin Love is. Now that he's back, he'll allow guys to play their natural position. He's not only a good passer. He's a willing passer."
Memphis and Cleveland have much in common. Both are mired near the bottom of their respective conferences. A smart bettor would not place a wager on either making the playoffs.
And both teams look nothing like the teams they were at the beginning of the season.
Because of injuries and trades, the Cavaliers overhauled their roster throughout much of the first part of the season. Rodney Hood, Kyle Korver, George Hill and Alec Burks are gone. Marquese Chriss, Brandon Knight and Matthew Dellavedova now wear the Wine & Gold.
Memphis shifted gears bringing in four new players at the Feb. 7 trade deadline. In all, nine new players have been added since December. Out are Marc Gasol, JayMichal Green and Garrett Temple; in are Jonas Valanciunas, Avery Bradley, Delon Wright and CJ Miles.
The mainstay is 12-year veteran point guard Mike Conley.
"I told the guys that this is like a new season for all of us." Conley said. "And it's not just including our new guys. For me, for everybody that's been here throughout the season, we're having to reteach, relearn, refocus and kind of start that process all over again.
"So be ready for it mentally, and I think we are. Be ready for it physically as well, and hopefully we'll get off to a good start coming off the break."
Valanciunas has averaged 17.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists on 60-percent shooting from the field in two games off the bench. He did not play Friday because of personal reasons.
After being acquired from the Clippers, Bradley scored a career-high 33 points in a loss to San Antonio last week.
"I feel like I'm getting more opportunities," Bradley said. "The coaches just told me when I got here to 'go out there and play like you did in Boston. Play your game and let your defense get your game going.' And that's been my mindset going into every game."
The two teams met on Dec. 26 with Memphis winning 95-87 behind 20 points from the now-departed Gasol. But Cleveland is 17-4 all-time against Memphis at home.
--Field Level Media
Updated February 23, 2019