By Jon Krawczynski
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
MINNEAPOLIS _ In his first game at Target Center since he was traded, it was abundantly clear to Kevin Love just how far away he has gotten from Minnesota.
Love spent six seasons with the Timberwolves toiling on a team that couldn’t stay healthy and never even sniffed the playoffs. Now he has LeBron James and Kyrie Irving on his side and the Cleveland Cavaliers are expecting to contend for a title.
With the Timberwolves, he was the focal point, putting up eye-popping numbers and earning three All-Star berths. In Cleveland, all of those numbers have dropped significantly while the wins have soared, leaving Love to make the same kind of adjustment that Chris Bosh did when he joined James in Miami.
When asked if it was a struggle to adapt, Love said “I’d be lying if I told you it wasn’t. But finding different ways to be as efficient as possible, because it’s something I prided myself on here. There’s different ways to affect the game; I’m still learning that here, but we still have 35-plus games left. With that, we’ll continue to evolve and change and get better.”
Love is averaging nine fewer points, five fewer shots and shooting worse from the field and 3-point line than he did last season with the Wolves and will not be joining James and Irving in New York for All-Star weekend. But the Cavaliers are 29-20 and have won 10 straight games after beating Minnesota on Saturday night.
“I’m in a situation now where we’re winning basketball games,” Love said. “And I’m happy with that.”
Even as Andrew Wiggins shows signs of becoming a star in Minnesota after the Cavaliers traded him, James is happy having Love by his side.
“I just think his basketball I.Q., people don’t see that,” James said. “The way he stretches the floor for us, his rebounding, his basketball I.Q. is really high and it adds to our team. It adds to our team as far as everything _ knowing where guys are both offensively and defensively and he’s been great.”
Here are some other things to keep an eye on in the NBA this week:
GAME OF THE WEEK: The best in the West against the best in the East on Friday night when the Golden State Warriors visit the Atlanta Hawks. Atlanta has won 19 straight games and turned the one of the most lifeless home arenas in the NBA into a packed house every night.
POP’S MILESTONE: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is three wins shy of 1,000 for his career. The Spurs could get him there this week with home games against Orlando on Wednesday and Miami on Friday and a trip to Toronto on Sunday.
DAME’S REVENGE TOUR: Portland point guard Damian Lillard didn’t hide his disappointment when he couldn’t get a spot on the jam-packed Western Conference All-Star roster. The Blazers host Utah on Tuesday, Phoenix on Thursday and have a tough road back-to-back at Dallas and Houston on the weekend.
RUBIO’S RETURN: Ricky Rubio is expected to make his return to the court after missing 42 games with a severely injured left ankle when his Minnesota Timberwolves visit the Dallas Mavericks on Monday. The Timberwolves were 2-2 when Rubio was injured on Nov. 7. They are 6-37 since.
SURGING GRIZZLIES: Memphis has won 10 of its last 11 games to climb to the No. 2 seed in the West. The addition of Jeff Green is paying dividends and the Grizzlies play at Phoenix on Monday, at Utah on Wednesday, at Minnesota on Friday and host the Hawks on Sunday.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Kyrie Irving went off for 55 points and 11 of 19 3-pointers to beat Portland on Wednesday. Irving saved his best for last, hitting a 3-pointer in the closing seconds to lift the Cavs to a win with LeBron James sitting out with a wrist injury.