CLEVELAND — Kevin Love won’t be able to help the Cavaliers down the stretch this season.
The All-Star forward will miss at least six weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Tuesday, a blow to the defending NBA champions as they try to lock up the top seed in the Eastern Conference and home-court advantage in the playoffs.
Love, who is having his best season with Cleveland, had a “loose body” removed from his knee by orthopedic surgeon David Altchek in New York, the Cavs said. Altchek surgically repaired Love’s shoulder during the 2015 playoffs.
The Cavs said Love will be sidelined approximately six weeks, which would have him returning by April 1. The playoffs start later that month.
“It’s just our road, every season one of our key guys gets hurt,” LeBron James said before the Cavaliers’ morning shootaround in preparation for a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. “This year has probably been the worst out of all years, having our starting 2 guard out for so long and then having our All-Star power forward out for an extended period of time. Just next man up. We just hope for a healthy and speedy recovery for our All-Star.”
Love missed most of the playoff run in 2015 with a shoulder injury and now joins J.R. Smith, who has been out since late December with a thumb injury, on the sideline for Cleveland. The Cavs (37-16) started the day atop the Eastern Conference, with the Celtics (36-19), Wizards (33-21) and Raptors (32-23), who bolstered their lineup on Tuesday by trading for Serge Ibaka, giving chase.
The 28-year-old Love had complained of soreness and had swelling in his knee following Saturday’s 125-109 win over Denver. The team did not disclose results of an MRI and said Monday that Love would seek a second opinion.
Love is averaging 20 points and 11.1 rebounds in his third season for the Cavaliers, who are in Minnesota — Love’s former team — to play their second-to-last game before the All-Star break.
Love, who recently missed some games with back spasms, finally seems at home in Cleveland after two sometimes turbulent seasons. He has blended in with fellow stars James and Kyrie Irving, giving the Cavs a “Big 3” as potent as any trio in the league.
“He was having that All-Star year and this is where he wanted to get back to after coming from Minnesota a couple years ago,” James said before the team’s morning shootaround in Minneapolis. “He was an All-Star and obviously he had to fit himself into a different role. We all did. It finally got back to the point where he felt like, ‘validate myself once again in this league.’ And then he has an injury again.
“So then he’s going to miss Sunday, which sucks. And he’s going to miss eight weeks, which sucks. We’ve got guys that’s ready.”
His absence will put further stress on Cleveland’s depth and could force general manager David Griffin to make a major move before the Feb. 23 trading deadline. Love’s name had floated in trade rumors for weeks, but following some recent strong performances, coach Tyronn Lue dismissed the notion that the four-time All-Star was going anywhere.
That could mean James will have a hard time getting any significant rest before the playoffs arrive, something that the Cavs have discussed with the 32-year-old James, who is tied with Toronto’s Kyle Lowry for the league lead at 37.6 minutes per game.
“We can’t run LeBron into the ground because Kevin’s out,” Lue said. “Guys have to step up and be ready to play. The games we discussed he could possibly be out in March, we’ll look forward to that.”
James quickly dismissed any concerns about his workload, saying he’s carried that burden for his entire career.
“I’ll rest when I retire,” James said. “As long as I’m in the lineup, we’ve got a chance. We’re good. Kev is out for an extended period of time. JR’s been out. But I’m in the lineup, obviously we’ve got a chance against anybody.”
The Cavs have been dealing with injuries all season.
Smith still could be two months away from returning and the Cavs traded center Chris Andersen, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in December.
Griffin added shooting specialist Kyle Korver in a trade, and the team is expected to sign Derrick Williams for the remainder of the season after giving him a 10-day contract last week.
AP Basketball Writer Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.