INDEPENDENCE — There’s no doubt the impending return of five-time All-Star forward Kevin Love will be an emotional boost for the Cavaliers.
But after Love went through his first full-contact practice since surgery on his left foot on Nov. 2 and was joined by key defender David Nwaba, sidelined by a sprained left ankle since Dec. 26, Larry Nance Jr. did not want outsiders questioning the team’s mood Thursday.
A two-game winning streak has pushed the Cavs (11-41) above the New York Knicks (10-40) in terms of the league’s worst record, but the Cavs’ roster could change by the Feb. 7 trade deadline.
“We’re excited about it, but don’t get us wrong now, we’re not a beaten dog,” Nance said of seeing Love’s and Nwaba’s participation. “We’re not sitting here moping around like, ‘Oh we’re going to be sellers at the deadline.’ Nobody knows that and there’s no point in worrying about anything.
“We’re not moping about our record. We’re just trying to get better game by game and I think we’ve shown that the last couple of games. There’s been improvement immensely on the defensive end and as you can see, Cedi [Osman], [Ante Zizic], different guys picking up offensively. We’re excited about those guys coming back, but there’s not going to be a lack of fight until they do.”
Cavs coach Larry Drew said Love was not spared during the practice, which included a five-on-five scrimmage. Hurt Oct. 2 in the preseason opener at the Boston Celtics, Love has appeared in just four games, averaging 19 points, 13.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists before pain in his big toe forced him out.
Drew seemed pessimistic about Love playing Saturday when the Cavs host the Dallas Mavericks, which might make Tuesday’s home game against the Celtics more likely. Love signed a four-year, $120 million contract extension in July to be the cornerstone of the rebuilding franchise.
“I cannot project, it, no,” Drew said of Love’s return. “We’ll see how he is when he comes in tomorrow. If there are no setbacks, we’ll have another practice and see how he does.
"I think Saturday would be pushing it, unless I get a different scenario. But right now, I don't see him playing Saturday."
Nance said Love's return will be a big lift.
"That's our franchise guy," Nance said of Love. "I know we're all excited to see him running around and putting pressure on his foot and jumping around and feeling good and happy about it. I'm thrilled to see him out there."
Not surprisingly, Drew said Love was “a little winded.” Drew was impressed with how well Love shot, but he was more encouraged by Love’s movement on offense.
“How he's been planting, how he's been cutting … Any time you come off any type of injury that deals with a leg, a foot, an ankle, whatever, you're always looking to see how a guy responds to contact,” Drew said at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “It's one thing to go out and get shots up on your own. But when you actually have people kinda banging with you, knocking you off your course, that can take a toll on you. We're hoping there are no setbacks; right now it looks like there aren't any.”
When he last spoke to reporters on Jan. 7, Love mentioned before or after the All-Star break, which for the Cavs is Feb. 14-20, for a possible return. Drew has noticed the hard work Love is putting in to get back.
“The things that he’s doing now that he’s participating in our practices, I can see that he’s really engaged and that’s a terrific sign,” Drew said. “Hopefully he’s closer than what we think he is. His demeanor is just that ‘I’m going to work hard and give 100 percent and see how I feel because I want to get back as fast as I can.’ That’s my read on it.”
The presence of versatile guard Nwaba, who has missed 18 consecutive games, would also help the short-handed Cavs, also without center Tristan Thompson (sore left foot). Nwaba has played in 21 games, averaging 6.0 points and 2.8 rebounds. In his six starts, the Cavs are 3-3, including victories over the Philadelphia 76ers and Houston Rockets.
Nance said both Love and Nwaba looked great in practice.
“I don’t know if either one of them missed a single shot today. That’s not a lie,” Nance said. “Dave was like 6-of-6 from 3 and Kev was Kev. They didn’t look like they missed a beat, so it was good to just see them. You can play noncontact all you want, but until you have somebody pushing on you or battling for the ball with somebody on the basket you never really realize how strong you are. It was good to see them get confidence again with being physical.”
Drew on deadline
With the trade deadline a week away, Drew knows the Cavs’ front office is listening to offers, but he’s not sure much will happen.
“I’ve been through a hundred deadlines and it’s always the same. There are always things that are floating around and scenarios, possibilities and what ends up happening is not a whole heckuva lot and this will be no different,” he said. “I’ve heard different scenarios and different things. But who knows what will happen? I know our management, this is what they do during trade deadline. They listen to everything that comes down the pike and you have to kind of wait and see what happens. But most of the time, not a lot happens.”
Guards Rodney Hood and Alec Burks are playing on expiring contracts and J.R. Smith is not with the team as it attempts to deal him.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.