A few days ago, Cleveland Cavaliers general manager David Griffin told reporters he hoped Kevin Love . On Thursday evening, however, coach Tyronn Lue announced that Love will return to the starting lineup Thursday night against the Utah Jazz. Here’s what Lue had to say:
It doesn’t take a genius to see why Love is important to the Cavaliers, as before his injury this season he was averaging 20 points and 11 rebounds a night, while shooting over 38 percent from downtown. And there simply aren’t many players in the league who are capable of delivering that kind of output on a nightly basis.
On a deeper level, however, there’s the fact that the Cavaliers defense fell off a table since Love went down. Before his injury, the team was 20th in the league, with a defensive rating of 106.3. During the timespan in which Love was out of the lineup, however, the Cavs’ defensive rating was 29th in the league, with the team giving up 112.5 points per 100 possessions. Largely as a result of their poor defensive work, the Cavs are just 7-6 since Love’s injury.
With Love back, as well as J.R. Smith, the Cavs should be able to improve on that end of the floor. Speaking of Smith, now that Love has returned, Thursday night will be the first time in months that the Cavs will be able to run out the starting lineup that helped them to the 2016 NBA championship.
As we’ve seen with Smith, it will likely take some time for Love to feel completely comfortable again, but once he does, the Cavs should once establish themselves as the clear title contender in the Eastern Conference.