With Kevin Love’s Achilles soreness, bench must step up for Cavs

Kevin Love is likely playing against the Miami Heat on Monday, but with him still likely not quite himself because of his sore right Achilles, the bench must step up for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Kevin Love has been dealing with reported Achilles soreness for a few weeks now, and though I could’ve seen Love playing on Saturday at the Miami Heat with the Cleveland Cavaliers coming off the All-Star break, with that one being the second game of a back-to-back, that wasn’t surprising.

Frankly, I’m not so sure it would’ve made much of a difference, anyway, as the Heat have blown out the Cavs in all three meetings between the two this season, and on Monday, even with Love listed as probable, I wouldn’t necessarily expect this to be very competitive. That’s even without Heat star Jimmy Butler again due to personal reasons.

At any rate, Love didn’t play in Cleveland’s last game before the All-Star break against the Atlanta Hawks, which was fine, as Larry Nance Jr. got the start, and delivered with a terrific all-around game, and also had a career-best 23 points, per Basketball Reference, in a 127-105 victory.

Andre Drummond and Tristan Thompson had double-doubles, alongside Nance, too, in that one.

While he wasn’t the only one, Love had a really rough outing in the game before that Atlanta win, in which Cleveland suffered their worst home loss in franchise history to the LA Clippers 133-92, of which KJG’s Corey Casey hit on, and on Friday, Love only played 23 minutes and was fairly ineffective at the Washington Wizards.

In that one, he had nine points on three-of-eight from the field, just a single rebound, and a one-to-three assist-to-turnover ratio, as indicated by ESPN.

The Cavaliers would end up coming back from being down by 16 points in the second quarter and gutted it out 113-108 in J.B. Bickerstaff‘s first game as their head coach, as Casey highlighted, but again, Love didn’t do much.

Along with that, Andre Drummond, even with 12 points, 12 rebounds, two blocks, two steals and two assists, wasn’t in a particularly great rhythm, which led to seven turnovers and neither he nor Love played in the fourth quarter.

Fortunately, Tristan Thompson, Nance, and the likes of Darius Garland, Collin Sexton, Cedi Osman (who kept the Cavs in it in that first half), and Dante Exum picked up the slack.

Moreover, Love has not appeared to be quite the same as he was really before the February 6 trade deadline. That’s seemingly due to him “slightly” injuring his Achilles in Cleveland’s game at the Oklahoma City Thunder on February 5 (Cleveland.com’s Chris Fedor reported that injury news at the time).

Granted, Love is probable to go on Monday in Cleveland’s second game in a row against Miami, but with his ailment, the Cavaliers need the bench contributors, such as Thompson, Nance and Kevin Porter Jr., to step up and provide big production in the next few games, I’d imagine until Love is really back, if you will.

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I’m obviously not saying Garland, Sexton, Osman and Drummond will get a pass, but with the collective play of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ starters being so inconsistent, Nance, Thompson, Porter and Dante Exum, at least when it comes to perimeter defense, need to pick it up in the next few games.

I could ultimately be wrong here in expecting this, but with Love feasibly off his game a bit and likely more of an individual liability defensively in his minutes with a sore Achilles, Cleveland’s bench pieces need to provide a big lift.

I’d expect to see Bickerstaff utilizing Nance as a key secondary playmaker a bunch in the Cavs’ next few games, and ideally, going forward when he’s on the floor, too, especially considering Nance has had a solid 2.8 assists per game in his last 10 contests, according to NBA.com, while also providing 13.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per outing in that span.

The Cavs are probably going to need near double-double type of efforts from Nance and/or Thompson in games against Miami, the Philadelphia 76ers, New Orleans Pelicans and perhaps even against a struggling Indiana Pacers team this week with Love not seeming to be nearly his full self.

In the last game Love was seemingly at fully capacity, if you will, he had 20 points on eight-of-17 shooting, to go with seven rebounds and five assists in that February 5 close loss in OKC, per ESPN, and his full array of inside-out scoring and playmaking was working.

Additionally, for the Cleveland Cavaliers, they’ll need Porter, who was averaging 15.3 points on 62.1 percent true shooting in his last eight games leading up to the All-Star break coming off his reported left knee sprain, to get going again after an early ejection in D.C. on Friday and he and the Cavs collectively getting worked by the Heat on Saturday by 19.

Porter making his presence felt on plenty of occasions as an efficient driver and facilitator could significantly help Garland/Sexton, and enable the Wine and Gold to be much more competitive in the next three or so games with Love’s sore Achilles perhaps capping his impact to an extent.

Again, I could be wrong and Love could still get hot from deep and rack up plenty of defensive rebounds, but I’d expect him to be fairly ineffective by his standards for a bit, and he and the Cavs need Thompson, Nance and the bench guys to step up to help pick up the slack.