Well, it’s late January and the Cleveland Cavaliers are eyebrows-deep in the midst of their annual midwinter malaise, so you know what that means: it’s time to blame Kevin Love for something!
The Cavs have lost nine of their last 12, and they got absolutely blasted by the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday. Love saw just three minutes and four seconds of floor time in what would go on to be a 24-point drubbing, checking out with 8:56 to go in the opening quarter and missing the rest of the game with an illness. Not only did the four-time All-Star exit the game; he reportedly exited Quicken Loans Arena, heading home after a first half that saw the Cavs give up 76 points to Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and company in a performance that elicited boos from the hometown crowd in Cleveland.
The jeers Love missed on Saturday apparently came his way on Monday, and they came from his fellow dudes in uniform. During what sources described to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN as “a fiery team meeting” before Monday’s practice — which, hey, the Cavs practice now, Isaiah! — several Cleveland players “challenged the legitimacy of” the illness that sidelined him for both the rest of Saturday’s game and the team’s Sunday practice. More from Woj:
Several players were pushing for the Cavaliers’ management and coaching staff to hold Love accountable for leaving the arena before the end of Saturday’s game, and then missing Sunday’s practice, league sources told ESPN.
The meeting was loud and intense, only calming down once Love spoke to those gathered in the room and explained himself, league sources said.
The meeting included Cavaliers coach Ty Lue and general manager Koby Altman, league sources said.
Another source told cleveland.com that virtually everyone on the team was called out at some point during the meeting. […]
Love told reporters after Monday’s practice: “Just got super dizzy, disoriented, didn’t feel right. Went to the bench and we both agreed that maybe we should just give it a few minutes and then just didn’t feel right at halftime. Put Tristan [Thompson] in to start the second half and went from there.”
It didn’t go great from there, as the Thunder kept the pedal to the metal to the tune of 148 points against a Cavaliers defense that has only gotten more punchless and permissive as the season has progressed. That feckless display came on the heels of Cleveland coughing up a 23-point lead to the lowly Orlando Magic before barely getting it together enough to escape with a win.
It was only their third W since Christmas — a span that has seen the three-time-defending Eastern Conference champions get outscored by a whopping 9.6 points per 100 possessions. Only the West-basement-dwelling Sacramento Kings have a worse net rating in that stretch. The OKC debacle was the kind of loss, punctuating a period of overwhelmingly garbage-y play, that incites questions about lineup changes, coaches’ jobs and early playoff exits.
Given the way it’s gone for Cleveland of late, it’s not surprising that things turned ugly on Monday morning. It is a little surprising, though, that the target was Love. (Though, when you think back on Love’s Cavs tenure, maybe it shouldn’t have been.)
All Love’s done this year is accept a shift to center to try to maximize the floor-spacing and offensive punch of these Cavs, and responded with the most productive per-minute and per-possession play of his time in Cleveland. He’s averaging an efficient 18.6 points per game on 45.9 percent shooting and a 40.1 percent mark from 3-point land, pulling down nearly 10 rebounds per game, and continuing to play his brand of effective, low-turnover, complementary ball.
Kevin Love through his career
Kevin Love through his career
UCLA's Kevin Love (C) eyes a rebound with Washington State's Daven Harmeling (L) and Kyle Weaver during their NCAA basketball game in Los Angeles January 12, 2008. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES)
UCLA's Kevin Love laughs during a timeout in the first half of their NCAA baskeball game against USC at the PAC-10 tournament in Los Angeles March 14, 2008. Love was the high scorer for the game with 19 points as UCLA won the game 57-54 to advance to the final on Saturday. REUTERS/Chris Pizzello (UNITED STATES)
UCLA Bruins' Kevin Love celebrates their win over Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at the end of their NCAA men's West Regional basketball game in Phoenix, Arizona, March 27, 2008. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES)
UCLA center Lorenzo Mata-Real (14) holds up the West Regional trophy as he celebrates with teammates James Keefe (L), Kevin Love (4th R) and head coach Ben Howland (R) after defeating Xavier Musketeers in their NCAA men's West Regional basketball game in Phoenix, March 29, 2008. REUTERS/Rick Scuteri (UNITED STATES)
Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love smiles during a timeout in the second half of their NBA basketball game against the Toronto Raptors in the Target Center in Minneapolis January 29, 2011. Love scored 21 points, and the Timberwolves won over the Raptors. REUTERS/Eric Miller (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
NBA basketball player Kevin Love, of the Minnesota Timberwolves, arrives at the 2011 ESPY Awards in Los Angeles, California, July 13, 2011. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT ENTERTAINMENT BASKETBALL)
Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves competes in the three-point contest
during the NBA All-Star weekend in Orlando, Florida, February 25, 2012. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
NBA player Kevin Love accepts his award during the 27th Anniversary Sports Spectacular benefiting Cedars-Sinai Medical Genetics Institute at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles, California May 20, 2012. REUTERS/Bret Hartman (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT SPORT BASKETBALL)
Deron Williams (L) and Kevin Love (R) both of the U.S. joke around with teammate Anthony Davis (C) during the men's preliminary round Group A basketball match against Nigeria at the Basketball Arena during the London 2012 Olympic Games August 2, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Segar (BRITAIN - Tags: OLYMPICS SPORT BASKETBALL)
Nov 16, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love (42) smiles and congratulates Minnesota Timberwolves shooting guard Kevin Martin (23) after making a three point shot in the second half against the Boston Celtics at Target Center. The TImberwolves won 106-88. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 27, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers forward David West (21) is guarded by Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 26, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) during media day at Cleveland Clinic Courts. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 2, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (12) defends Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) during the first quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 26, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) injures his shoulder during the first half in game four of the first round of the NBA Playoffs against the Boston Celtics. at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 2, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) juggles a loose ball during the third quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center. The Cavaliers won 107-100. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 23, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) and forward LeBron James (23) react in the third quarter against the Orlando Magic at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
March 13, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) shoots a basket against Los Angeles Clippers during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 5, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) passes the ball against Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) during the first quarter in game two of the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 13, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) enters the arena before game five of the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
June 19, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) and forward Kevin Love (0) celebrate the 93-89 and series victory against the Golden State Warriors following game seven of the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Picture Supplied by Action Images
(TAGS: Sport Basketball NBA) *** Local Caption *** 2016-06-20T032523Z_2053546459_NOCID_RTRMADP_3_NBA-FINALS-CLEVELAND-CAVALIERS-AT-GOLDEN-STATE-WARRIORS.JPG
Nov 25, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) shoots during the second half against the Dallas Mavericks at Quicken Loans Arena. The Cavs won 128-90. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
May 21, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) and forward Kevin Love (0) celebrate during the first quarter against the Boston Celtics in game three of the Eastern conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 25, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) poses for a portrait during media day at Cleveland Clinic Courts. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 08: Kevin Love #0, LeBron James #23 and Jeff Green #32 of the Cleveland Cavaliers look on during the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on January 8, 2018 at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
SACRAMENTO, CA - DECEMBER 27: Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during the game against the Sacramento Kings on December 27, 2017 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Four days ago, head coach Tyronn Lue was calling for the Cavs to play more frequently through Love — the gifted and versatile big man he famously called a “bad m—–f—-r” during Cleveland’s run to the 2016 NBA championship — when they start to stagnate. Now, Love’s teammates are accusing him of faking an injury so he can get out of Dodge. Life comes at you fast in Northeast Ohio, man.
The Cavs need something, anything, to try to distract from the reality that, as Jason Lloyd of The Athletic reports LeBron is “privately acknowledging to those around him,” their current state of affairs is “the worst it has been since he returned” to Cleveland. In the absence of an actual reason to believe, maybe an airing of grievances — even small, perhaps ridiculous ones — will suffice in a pinch.
That seems to be the hope in Cleveland, anyway. Woj reports that “there was a sense that the team was largely accepting of Love’s explanation, and that the airing out of issues could have a positive impact on what has become an increasingly fractured locker room.” With no shortage of targets for blame and plenty of work to be done to fix what’s ailing the team that’s had the East in a chokehold for three years running, any sign of hope will have to do for now. But if the Cavs don’t start translating all this talk into meaningful action on the court, then what keeps showing up on film ought to be sickening enough to ensure that neither Love nor anybody else in wine and gold has to go around faking any time soon.