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New power forward's in Love with Cleveland

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers forward from Lake Oswego, signs autographs before Tuesday night's NBA game against the Trail Blazers at Moda Center.Kevin Love stepped away from the grind and the spotlight that is the NBA on Monday night, joining his parents, Stan and Karen, and his siblings, Collin and Emily, for dinner at the Ringside.

"Getting dinner with the family, whether it's my mom cooking or going out to eat, it's just great," said the Lake Oswego native, now a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. "Emily came up from her place in L.A., just to hang. That was fun.

"I don't get to Portland enough. This is still where my heart is, my family's home is. Every time I get to see them, it's just great. But now that I'm in the Eastern Conference, it's more short-lived."

Love knows what it's like to be part of a traveling circus. As a member of the U.S. team won gold at the world championships in 2010 and the Olympic Games in 2012, he was in the eye of the fishbowl.

So the hoopla surrounding the Cavaliers isn't going to overwhelm him.

"It hasn't been too crazy yet," Love said Tuesday after Cleveland's shootaround before tonight's matchup with the Trail Blazers at Moda Center. "We have great people around us who have kept it on the straight and narrow.

"It's been fun getting this season started, getting out of the preseason. We're 1-1. We'd like to be 2-0, but tonight is another chance for us."

Love may be underplaying the crush of attention that follows the Cavs now that Love, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving have joined forces.

"Anytime you add talented players on a roster, the expectations and the sideshow is a part of it," veteran forward Mike Miller observed.

But it's a situation Love coveted after six seasons of failing to make the NBA postseason with Minnesota. When the Timberwolves completed a three-way trade in August that sent Love to Cleveland, the three-time All-Star power forward couldn't have been happier.

"I said all along that I just wanted to win," Love said. "Now I feel I have a good chance to do that, but we have a lot of work to do.

"We have a team that hasn't played together too much. We're still figuring things out. The good thing is, we have the talent. We have guys who are hungry. Now we just have to go out there and work."

Since they were teammates with the U.S. team at the London Olympics, James and Love have talked about playing together. Now it's reality.

"Kevin is a lot happier," his father said. "At least now you're going to make the playoffs and get that monkey off your back. He's getting to play with a lot of good guys, including LeBron.

"Kevin says LeBron is the real deal. He has been impressed that LeBron is a terrific father, and his leadership skills are off the chart."

The leadership part is what has impressed Love the most.

"It's great for a guy like me, in my seventh year in the league," Love said. "And for Kyrie, the rookies on this team, even 15-, 16-year veterans like Mike and Shawn (Marion). We all follow him.

"LeBron is the guy who takes the first step, the guy who speaks up. When he talks, we listen. But the good thing about this team is, when anybody talks, there's a lot of respect. That's something that should go a long way."

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Power forward Kevin Love (right) warms up and works on his moves before Tuesday night's Cleveland-Portland NBA game.The 6-10 Love is a star in his own right, a second-team all-NBA choice last season while finishing fourth in the league in scoring (26.0 points per game) and third in rebounding (12.5). He ranked third in the league's player efficiency ratings, trailing only Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant and James.

"It's a lot of fun to see where he's come and what he's all about now," said Miller, a teammate of Love's in Minnesota during his rookie season in 2008-09. "He was awesome as a rookie, but it's fun to watch guys mature and see the path they've gone down.

"He has carved out an amazing career so far. He is a perennial All-Star and one of the toughest covers in the league because of the way he shoots the ball and his rebounding. He is a real problem on both sides of the floor."

At the end of the season, Love can opt out of a contract that will pay him $15.7 million this year. He says whatever he does, he will stay with the Cavs.

"I plan on being with Cleveland long-term," he said. "There's a big future for this team. The more games we get together, the better we're going to be."

Love has kept the Los Angeles home he shares with girlfriend Cody Horn -- "I work out there in the summer, so it makes sense for me," he said -- and is renting a condo in downtown Cleveland.

"I'm trying to figure out the city first and then start to understand the surrounding areas before I buy (a house)," Love said. "I'm a guy who is more of a homebody, so I can live anywhere. But I love the city of Cleveland, and I love the fans. They told me the first day I was out there that the fans are awesome, and that's been true."

The Cavs lost their opener 95-90 to New York at home, then knocked off fellow Eastern Conference title contender Chicago 114-108 on the road in an overtime thriller. How good can the Cavs be?

"It's too early to tell," said Love, who averaged 17.5 points and 15 rebounds in the first two games. "It's going to take a little bit of time for us to put everything together.

"The NBA season is a long road. We're hoping to play as long as we can. We want to win our last game."

The reference, of course, isn't to Cleveland's regular-season finale against Washington on April 15.

Love is thinking of a date in mid-June, with a parade to follow.

kerryeggers@portlandtribune.com

Twitter: @kerryeggers

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