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Random dribbles following the Cavaliers’ 126-101 knockout punch of a win over the visiting Toronto Raptors on Monday.
1. Imagine if Kevin Love had been healthy and playing all season. Where would the Cavs be today?
2. I honestly don’t know. Would they be in contention for the playoffs? Would they be a surprise team in the East? Would they have more wins over contenders such as the Raptors? they would definitely be better than their current record of 17-50.
3. At the very least, the Cavs would definitely be as good as most teams in the Southeast Division. That’s the division led by the Miami Heat … with a record of 31-35. Heck, the Atlanta Hawks are 23-45 and only nine games out of first.
4. Either way, the Cavs play in the Central. But maybe it’s time the NBA did away with divisions.
5. Anyway, back to reality. The point is that Love has been a major difference-maker. Probably more than most people thought. Perhaps even more than the Cavs expected. But with Love, the Cavs are just a different team.
6. Rookie point guard Collin Sexton has benefited greatly from Love’s presence. Sexton scored 28 points and had five assists and zero turnovers against one of the top two contenders in East. He just looks more comfortable with Love on the floor. Everyone does. But maybe no one more than Sexton, who admires Love and complements the big man well.
7. Love finished with 16 points and 18 rebounds. He makes it considerably more difficult for opponents to double-team or trap the likes of Sexton, Cedi Osman and Jordan Clarkson. Love even helps open things up for Ante Zizic underneath.
8. Mostly, and I’ve written this before, Love really seems to have rediscovered the joy of playing. There is no pressure to do anything beyond go out, give it your best and have fun. This is Love like we’ve never before seen him.
9. Best of all for the Cavs, that approach seems to be rubbing off on Sexton and Osman (19 points, seven boards, seven assists). Both have had their struggles, but unlike so many younger players, they have actually looked better in the season’s second half.
10. Cavs coach Larry Drew on Sexton: “Tonight was probably as complete of a game as I’ve seen Collin play, in regards to scoring, getting us into our offense and decision-making. He did a good job of getting into the paint and recognizing whether to finish or make the (pass).”
11. Zizic finished with 17 points and seven boards in outplaying Raptors center Marc Gasol, and Clarkson scored 14 off the bench. Brandon Knight added 12 on a night in which all Cavs starters scored in double figures.
12. Love on the game: “That was a great win for us. Especially against a real good team at home. It was fun.”
13. Granted, the Raptors had to be a little tired, as this was their third straight road game and second in two nights. But they are playing for home-court advantage in the entire playoffs, so this one has to sting. The Cavs took it right at them in the second half.
14. Along with this being a pretty big upset, the game featured a fight between Cavs forward Marquese Chriss and Raptors big man Serge Ibaka . It happened with one second left in the third quarter as the two battled for position near the Raptors’ basket. (Toronto was attempting a full-court pass that sailed out of bounds.)
15. Ibaka fell and Chriss looked down and clearly said something. Ibaka hopped up, grabbed Chriss by the neck and the fists started flying. Both players were immediately ejected and suspensions are likely on the way. The Cavs led 91-77 at the time and seemed to gain even more momentum after the incident.
16. All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard led the Raptors with 25 points. “They did a great job, they played well, and they made open shots,” Leonard said of the Cavs. “That’s pretty much the way the game played out.”
17. It’s hard to predict whether Leonard will return to the Raptors after the season. My theory is the Raptors will have to make it all the way to the Finals for him to even think about it. That’s just a gut feeling, though.
18. Back to Love. After the way he’s played this season, the Cavs are destined to get plenty of trade calls and maybe a few offers from contenders. But I don’t see anyone giving up what the Cavs will want in return. The only downside is he always seems to turn up injured, in some form and for a pretty serious amount of time.
19. The Cavs are back on the road Wednesday to face another East contender, the Philadelphia 76ers. Love will sit out strictly for precautionary reasons.