Let’s forget that shadow of an All Star who pouted and stuttered his way through the first half of the season looking like a round ball in a square hoop. Let’s salute the contribution that Kevin Love has made in taking the Cleveland Cavaliers into a position being favourites for the NBA title – and hence, question what has been left standing amid the carnage of his exit from these Playoffs.
Love, courtesy of his entanglement with Kelly Olynyk in Game 4 of their first round sweep of the Celtics, won’t be seen again this season thanks to shoulder surgery. Which is why the Cavs are now down to 3.75 second favourites for the championship with the Golden State Warriors inheriting top spot.
First things first, I’m not convinced that Cleveland has enough to get past the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference semi-finals without the assist Love offers. He’s never going to be a defensive juggernaut so expect his team-mates to focus even more on keeping Chicago under 90 points.
But it’s the Cavaliers own offensive output that could take a knock when the series tips off on Monday. The USA international not only chips in 16.4 points and 9.7 rebounds per night but his ability to shoot the three and be a fulcrum on pick and rolls creates the space that has allowed David Blatt’s men to function very effectively despite a system which hasn’t quite gelled into a machine.
The Bulls, well capable of doing better than most of corralling LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, can afford to concentrate resources and dare other Cavs to do their worst. And with JR Smith suspended for Games 1 and 2, their firepower is diluted further.
Chicago, at their best, have a great shot at advancing. And regardless of who moves on, if it is the Atlanta Hawks awaiting in the East Finals, there’s a real chance it will not be Cleveland who make it all the way to the finish.
Which is why it might be time to show a little love instead for the Hawks for the Eastern title at 4.25 – or further afield to have a punt on the Warriors or the winner of Spurs-Clippers to capitalise on the no-longer-laughing Cavaliers.
The Golden State-Memphis West semis start on Sunday with Mike Conley’s status uncertain. Despite stellar first rounds from both, back the Warriors to come up trumps 4-1 in a defensive tussle.
Best bet: Go under 194.5 points in Game 1 of Warriors – Grizzlies at 2.25