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Cavaliers continue life without Love by hosting Pacers
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LeBron James had a simple message after Kevin Love's knee surgery: You've still got me.
The Cleveland Cavaliers enter Wednesday's home game against the Indiana Pacers without Love, their All-Star power forward who is expected to miss up to six weeks following arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Tuesday in New York.
James downplayed the impact of Love's loss, then went out and proved it with 25 points, 14 assists and eight rebounds in the Cavs' win at Minnesota Tuesday night.
James already leads the league in minutes played, but isn't concerned about his minutes or the burden he's carrying for first-place Cleveland.
"I'll rest when I retire. As long as I'm in the lineup, we've got a chance," James said. "We good. Kev is out for an extended period of time. J.R. (Smith) has been out, but I'm in the lineup. I'll be suiting up, we've got a chance against anybody. I ain't worried."
Channing Frye started in place of Love Tuesday and matched season highs with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Coach Tyronn Lue expects him to start again Wednesday against the Pacers, but left open the possibility of starting little-used James Jones when they reconvene after the All-Star break.
For now, Lue is not considering starting Derrick Williams, who was signed last week to a 10-day contract but is expected to finish the season in Cleveland.
Replacing Love will be difficult, particularly his rebounding. He was enjoying his best season of his three years in Cleveland and was headed back to the All-Star game for the first time since he was in Minnesota. Now that has been scratched, too. He should return to the Cavs about the same time Smith is expected to return from thumb surgery.
"We just got to get them back whenever they're ready," Lue said. "We don't want to rush those guys back. Health is the most important thing, we know that and with two of our starters being out, we got to step up and play better. And I know we will. I'm confident that we'll play well so guys got to be ready to play."
The Pacers followed up a seven-game win streak with a four-game losing streak. They enter Wednesday sixth in the East, but 4 1/2 games from being out of the playoffs. The inconsistency and the inability to beat the league's elite is frustrating everyone, particularly Paul George.
"We see what works for us and then we go away from it," George told the Indianapolis Star. "It's very frustrating, especially losing to Eastern (Conference) teams, where these games are going to come down to late March, early April, where we're playing desperate basketball trying to make the playoffs. These are the games, and really divisional and conference games, that we've got to pick up and we're struggling to do so."
The latest skid correlates with Thaddeus Young's wrist injury. Young missed the last six games with the sprained left wrist and isn't expected back until sometime after the All-Star break.
This could be a pivotal stretch for the Pacers, who close out the first half against third-seeded Washington on Thursday. Losing these two and tumbling into the break on a six-game skid makes the week off a little less enjoyable.
"I just think right now, with our mindset, we need to win these games," Pacers guard Monta Ellis told the Star. "There's no margin for error. Going into the break, getting a win for us right now, we need it because we've got a tough schedule in the second half."
Updated February 15, 2017