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Kevin Love reflects on shoulder injury upon Boston return

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Kevin Love will step onto the parquet floor in Boston for the first time since having his shoulder pulled out of its socket nearly eight months ago when the Cleveland Cavaliers play the Celtics on Tuesday.

Love already has buried the hatchet with Boston’s Kelly Olynyk, the player responsible for his injury as the pair battled for position in the closeout game of the Cavs' first-round playoff sweep. Love accepted the forward’s apology during the offseason. And Olynyk already has served the one-game suspension levied by the league for his role in the play.

But to say there isn’t any hint of “What if?” nostalgia for Love heading into Tuesday's game would be inaccurate.

“I haven’t really thought about it. I don’t really feel any animosity towards anybody,” Love told ESPN.com after practice Monday. “But at the same time, it will always be a place that I’ll remember the playoff run they had last year and how mine got cut short.”

The fact that Love uses “they” instead of "we" to describe the Cavs’ ensuing run through Chicago and Atlanta -- and its conclusion against Golden State -- suggests just how disconnected the injury caused him to feel from his team's postseason success.

“I naturally wanted to be out there the whole time, I know we’ve talked about that on numerous occasions, but I haven’t really thought about it much,” Love said. “Boston is a good team and more than anything we want to go in there and get a win.”

Love’s answer is typical of the forward-focused approach he has brought to this season. When he was benched in the fourth quarter of a game in Charlotte recently, there wasn’t a peep out of him about how coach David Blatt did the same thing to him four times last season. And his relationship with LeBron James, which failed to find much of a rhythm in 2014-15, now appears to be on stable ground without any grudges being held.

That outlook allowed Love to entertain the question Monday: What if the shoulder injury was the best thing for him in the long run? After all, he claims to be in the best shape of his eight-year career, fueled by a feverish offseason training regimen to come back better than ever. And he says that sitting on the sidelines during the Finals and witnessing his teammates so engrossed in the shared goal of a championship is what truly cemented his decision to return to Cleveland.

“I think injuries force you to kind of assess where you’re at and you kind of have to figure out where you’re going to get better,” Love answered. “I felt that last season sometimes I had some imbalances in my body, and that showed throughout the course of the season. So this year, I just feel so much better. I’m in a lot better shape.”

His body isn’t the only thing that has changed. Being part of a team that has a legitimate shot to win any time the ball is tipped has even adjusted the way Love views his personal stats. That eight-point, six-assist, two-steal, 13-rebound output in Cleveland’s rout of the Magic on Friday was just as satisfying as the 20-point, 10-rebound games he used to expect out of himself in Minnesota.

“Big time, yes,” Love said when asked if his view has changed. “Only because coming in last year, you don’t really know what to expect. So naturally with 'Bron and Kyrie dominating the ball so much and being our primary two of three scorers, I would see the ball less.

“I think this year as far as spots on the floor, I’m used a lot more. There’s a lot more parity and balance throughout the entire floor. I’m posting up a lot more, which I prefer and enjoy, while still being able to step out and do different things. But I think you saw it last game [against Orlando], I’m trying to rebound better as I mentioned before the season. Getting in the post more, as I mentioned before the season. And also the assist numbers, of being able to play through me a little bit more; we’re going to see smaller lineups now with me playing at the 5.”

Indeed, Love’s usage rate has increased to 24.7 from 20.4 last season. And while Love admits there has been “not much” practice time dedicated to him playing center, he has experience playing the position from his days with the Timberwolves.

“I used to play the 5 quite a bit when we ran our corner offense with Coach [Rick] Adelman,” Love said. “So there’s going to be times where I’m going up against guys that are 7-feet, but I’ll be able to take them away from the basket. If they switch 4-5, 'Bron will be going against the 5 man. So there’s advantages to that, some disadvantages, but I’ll be ready when my number is called.”

Just like the Cavs’ adaptable lineups, Love has proven to be malleable in his mindset. Who knows if any of that would have happened without that shoulder injury in Boston.