It appears as if Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love is finally reaching the expectations which surrounded him when he first joined the team in the summer of 2014.
If so, Cleveland should be the favorite to win the Eastern Conference.
Behind a 24-point, 14-rebound performance from Love, the Cavaliers improved their record on the season to 2-1 with a 102-92 win over the Miami Heat (1-1).
Small forward LeBron James was sensational as well, hitting on 13 of his 19 field goal attempts for 29 points to accompany his five rebounds and four assists. Cleveland's reserves were instrumental in the victory, with center Tristan Thompson garnering 13 points and nine rebounds in 26 minutes and point guard Matthew Dellavedova recording 10 assists and a plus-minus rating of plus-23 in 27 minutes of action.
Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade kept his team in contention throughout with 25 points. However, his seven turnovers proved costly. Power forward Chris Bosh contributed 16 points while the other three starters, point guard Goran Dragic, small forward Luol Deng, and center Hassan Whiteside all scored in double figures.
Despite a solid outing from its starting cast, Miami's bench play proved to be the culprit in the defeat. Small forward Justise Winslow shot just 1-of-4 from the field while recording a plus-minus rating of minus-16 while power forwards Amar'e Stoudemire and Josh McRoberts amounted a combined minus-33 plus-minus rating.
Leading 20-19 with 2:33 remaining in the first quarter, the Cavaliers asserted their dominance to create some distance between themselves and the Heat, with Love and Thompson pacing a 9-4 run to end the quarter.
Two baskets from James and a three from Dellavedova off of a James assist pushed the lead to 36-25 early in the second quarter as the four-time NBA MVP thwarted the plethora of looks that the Heat defense threw at him. He converted a complicated turnaround jumper over his defender to begin the stanza, finished a contested runner in the lane to follow, and provided his team with an 11-point advantage with a dime to Dellavedova on the perimeter to close out the sequence.
Miami was able to cut the deficit to 47-42 at the halftime break, however, keeping it relatively close throughout the third quarter while closing the gap to 68-63 with 2:46 remaining in the stanza after a three-pointer by small forward Gerald Green.
Despite the surge, the Heat proceeded to yield a run to the Cavaliers to conclude the quarter, with a bucket by shooting guard Jared Cunningham pushing the Cleveland advantage to 76-67 entering the fourth quarter.
The Cavaliers created an insurmountable gap as the fourth quarter commenced, with Cunningham beginning the stanza with a running floater and small forward Richard Jefferson following that with a three-pointer to push the lead to 81-67.
After a layup by Heat point guard Mario Chalmers, Thompson converted a free throw and a two-pointer to precede a James bucket and two free throws from Love to up the Cleveland lead to 88-69 with 6:58 remaining in the contest, a 12-2 run which essentially put the game out of reach for Miami.
The Cleveland advantage ballooned to as much as 97-77 after point guard Mo Williams converted on a pair of free throws with 3:39 left, putting the Cavaliers in a favorable position as they prepare to travel to the Wells Fargo Center to challenge the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday.
The Heat will return to South Beach to host the Houston Rockets on Sunday evening.