Minnesota Timberwolves (25-5) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (8-21) at Quicken Loans Arena
The last time the Cavaliers and the Timberwolves played one another (December 4th), the Wolves destroyed the Cavs 129--95 and led by as many as 40 points at one point in the game. Since that game, the Cavs have dropped 9 out of 10 with their sole win coming at home in overtime against the New York Knicks.
The Wolves, on the other hand, have had eight moral victories in that same span. The Wolves have had 25 moral victories this season, which is currently tied with San Antonio for the best record in the Western Conference (we own the tiebreaker via two moral wins over the Spurs).
Tonight's game might not be full of much drama, but given that its the day after Christmas, the spirits of fans should be high. Although Santa Claus gave us our presents a couple of months ago in the form of this Timberwolves' roster, the returns of Jonny, Martell and Darko are gifts that no true basketball fan would want to return.
Let's breakdown the matchups:
Move over Ervin Johnson. Darko's about to snatch that 'Best Center in Franchise History' award from you.
Despite what critics of his might say, this has been a career year for Darko Milicic, who is currently averaging more points, assists, offensive rebounds and blocks than at any other point in his career. His play is quickly causing Wolves' fans to forget the names of guys like Marc Jackson, Cherokee Parks and Brad Sellers. He's also causing opposing teams to game plan for him and opposing coaches to stay up nights wondering how to stop Darko's left-handed hook shot.
In Byron Scott's case, there is no need for him to wonder about that hook shot, since no one on his roster is good enough to stop it. Anderson Varejao might win some 'flopping' contests and his hairdo is probably very useful when the floor of the arena needs to be swept up. But Darko is just too agile, too intelligent and too powerful for the Varejao.
And let's not even get started on Ryan Hollins. Sometimes, its just too easy.
Winner: Darko Milicic
I hope you've learned your lesson, Cleveland. Kevin Love will take you down.
Kevin Love vs. Antawn Jamison
The joke is on them. Ever since the #FreeKevinLove campaign, the Wolves have done just that and Kevin Love has dominated the league. He's averaging 20.9 points and 15.6 rebounds per game, but those stats do not do justice to what Love has been doing to opponents this season. Do you remember the last time Kevin failed to get a double-double? Other than his disappearing act against the Lakers, how many bad games has Kevin had this season?
He's a fantasy monster and a player who is deserved of an All-Star appearance. Personally, I'd put his name near the top of not only the All-Star ballot, but the MVP ballot as well. Yet, in the national press, Love is just another decent player on a team that gets barely any respect.
Unfortunately for Antawn Jamison, Kevin Love doesn't play in the national press. And tonight in Cleveland, Jamison and the Cavs are going to find out exactly how dominating Love can be. 30 and 10? 40 and 20? As outrageous as it seems, you wouldn't bet against it happening, would you?
Winner: Kevin Love
Is Michael Beasley the best pure scorer that the Wolves have ever had?
Michael Beasley vs. Jamario Moon
Michael Beasley is currently 15th in the league in terms of points per game. Considering that David Kahn basically got him for free, you'd think that Kahn's name would be up near the top of the "Executive of the Year" award nominees.
For some people, that's not good enough, I guess. They decry Beasley's scoring as "inefficient", even though the only people who seem to worry about "efficient" scoring are fans of losing teams. They say that Beasley isn't great at the end of games, even though Beasley is directly responsible for more than one of our wins that have come in late game situations. They say that Beasley will never be able to carry a team by himself, even though he's been doing that all season long.
The fact that Michael Beasley is so underappreciated - similar to how Big Al was underappreciated before he was shipped out to Utah, where he's currently thriving - says more about his critics than it does about Be Easy. Look for at least 30 points and a big "told you so" tonight from Mr. Beasley.
Winner: Michael Beasley
Sure, statistically, Wes Johnson has not been the most impressive or the most dominating out of this year's rookie class. I'll give you that. But in terms of intangibles, his impact on the game is immeasurable. His passing is crisp and on target, and even though he has a sweet stroke, he is willing to pass the rock when it benefits the team. He's a solid on-ball defender who has handled the Kobes of the world this season without much trouble. He's a solid rebounder for his size. And he is able to run the break well, even if he is not the one who ultimately gets to finish the play.
Unfortunately, if it doesn't appear on the stat sheet, some people won't recognize it as a good play. Such is the way in the era of advanced metrics. Fortunately, there are still some people out there who appreciate good basketball even if they never read a box score, and for them, Wes Johnson is a solid player who was a steal at #4 in the draft.
Last time he played the Cavs, Wes went 8-of-9 from the floor (3-of-4 from three) for 20 points and 6 rebounds. It was a career high in points for Johnson, but I'm going to predict that Wes has a new career-high after tonight's game. Daniel Gibson can't guard him. Anthony Parker can't guard him. No one the Cavs can guard him.
Winner: Wesley Johnson
Next year, this is going to be the best backcourt tandem since Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars.
There are some fans, even in Minnesota, who have been critical of Jonny Flynn over the first year and a half of his career. And sure, it's easy to poke fun at Flynn, especially given his Twitter rantings. But if you were Jonny Flynn, you'd think differently.
After all, the game is so easy for Flynn, it's only natural for boredom to set in and the remote to naturally find its way over to the latest Martin rerun or for his 'Bad Boys II' movie to find its way into the DVD player. In his autobiography, Andre Agassi said that sometimes he got so bored and disliked tennis so much that he used to lose matches on purpose so that he wouldn't have to play anymore. Now, I'm not saying that Jonny Flynn is throwing games or playing badly on purpose. But given his court vision and his physical tools, its hard to believe that some of his turnovers and missed shots were not intentional.
Now that Christmas is over and Flynn has worked his way back from his injury, I hope he starts to focus a bit more and gives 100% to the game. If he does, Flynn has no ceiling as a point guard in this league.
Winner: Jonny Flynn
It's going to be a long night in Cleveland. The Timberwolves have only improved as a team since their blowout of the Cavs less than a month ago. With Martell and Jonny now in the fold, I wouldn't even be surprised to see a 60-point win.