Love: Just 'another game' Tuesday

ByDave McMenamin ESPN logo
Tuesday, December 23, 2014

CLEVELAND -- After playing the first six seasons of his career with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Kevin Love will play the Wolves as an opponent for the first time as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday.

Love acknowledged the unique nature of the game following the Cavs' shootaround Tuesday morning, but said that the real test will come when Cleveland travels to play at Minnesota on Jan. 31.

"It always is a different feel, but I told [a reporter] the other day, it will probably be even more different when we head back and play them at Target Center," Love said. "So it's going to be another game tonight."

Wolves coach Flip Saunders said Monday that Minnesota fans will have a hard time forgiving Love for leaving -- even though he was technically traded.

"Minnesota people are pretty loyal. You turn on Minnesota, they don't forgive you," Saunders said. "So I think people probably appreciated him while he was here. But you leave under the terms that he did, just the way Minnesota people are, they're not pretty forgiving along those lines."

Love did not totally disagree with Saunders' assessment.

"I know when somebody leaves that they more often than not don't want to say good things about him," Love said. "I think that [Saunders] was right in a lot of ways, but at the same time I made a lot of great relationships in the Twin Cities that will carry on throughout my career and post career."

Love was greeted on the court by former teammates Kevin Martin and Gorgui Dieng as the Cavs finished up shootaround at Quicken Loans Arena and the Wolves started theirs.

"I still have a lot of friends on the team, people I keep in touch with," Love said.

Love was a three-time All-Star in Minnesota while also being named the league's most improved player in 2010-11, but the Wolves failed to make the playoffs during his tenure. LeBron James said Love is already making up for his lack of postseason experience.

"I think he's learning every day what it means to go out and have a pressure game every single night when everyone is gunning for you," James said.

And despite Love's averages taking a dip from 26.1 points and 12.5 rebounds in 2013-14 to 16.8 points and 10.5 rebounds this season, James said Love's status in the league hasn't changed.

"He's still a star here," James said. "We all just want to win. That's it. That's all that matters."

Love was traded for two former No. 1 picks -- Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett -- in a three-team deal also including Philadelphia. Love was asked about being inextricably linked to Wiggins for the rest of his career.

"I was traded on draft night, too," Love said, recalling how Memphis took him with the No. 5 pick and flipped him for O.J. Mayo, taken No. 3 by Minnesota. "That's all I really know of being linked to anyone. O.J. Mayo was somebody I played against at USC, somebody who was one of my rivals in high school. A guy I was always fighting for the top spot [against].

"So, here it's a little bit different. Wiggins was obviously drafted here, the No. 1 pick, and I think the Timberwolves got a very good player in him. He has a lot of chance with all the minutes and the guys hurt being able to show what he can do."

Wiggins averaged 15.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in four summer league games for the Cavs but never even made it to training camp with the team, as the Love trade was consummated in late August. Like Love, Wiggins downplayed Tuesday's matchup, calling it "just another game."

James knows all about playing against a former team. His matchups with the Cavs the past four seasons when he was with the Heat became must-see TV. And he'll feel the other side of the experience playing in Miami on Christmas Day.

He said Love is prepared to face the Wolves.

"I think he's ready for it," James said. "I know he's ready for it, for this opportunity. So, I never put too much pressure into it. I know it's great to go back out and compete against your former teammates, your former team. But I never put too much pressure on it."

Wiggins, James said, will face pressure all season being the rookie with perhaps the highest expectations placed upon him since James entered the league in 2003.

"You just got to be ready for it every night," James said. "People know that you're the No. 1 pick and they want to see how they can stack up against you or if you belong here. For me, I knew I could play the game of basketball. I knew I could play it because I could think it, as well. I just went out and played my game as a rookie and just went out and did the things I always learned and was taught as a young guy."

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