Cavs at Wolves
7:00 pm CST
For one of the few times of the season, the Wolves will appear on national television tonight, though they aren't exactly the main draw for this one. That would be the Cavs, who are leading the East with a 24-9 record, much of it compiled without the services of star point guard Kyrie Irving, who is just returning from off-season surgery and after struggling for a few games just put up 25 and 32 in his last two outings, so the Cavs appear at full strength heading to Target Center.
Of course it's the NBA, where teams sometimes have uninspired nights and you never know what might happen, but this feels like a mismatch. The Wolves have been in free fall recently, 4-16 in their last 20 since an 8-8 start, including a current four game losing streak against teams nowhere near the quality of the Cavaliers. Very little has been going right for the Wolves recently, especially among the young players who represent hope for the franchise.
The only recent happy note is the return of Nikola Pekovic to the lineup on Wednesday against Denver, where he looked much like himself: big, strong, the immovable object with touch around the basket. I forgot how much fun it is to watch him jousting with other large humans in the post.
I have no idea how long he'll be able to last playing NBA basketball at this point. There is no way to count on him. Here's what I do know: I find a lot of enjoyment in watching him play, and so I'm just going to try to savor whatever minutes he's able to give for as long as he can give them.
He's unlikely to be the difference in this one, however, as the Cavs just bring too much mature talent to bear: LeBron James remains one of the top handful of players in the NBA and leads the Cavs with 26 a night despite having a poor year from three. Kevin Love comes back to Target Center still averaging a double-double despite not carrying nearly as big a load in either minutes or usage as he did with the Wolves.
The Cavs are top five in both offensive and defensive rating; they have been playing at a slow pace, grinding teams down with their excellent rebounding on both ends, and doing a great job contesting shots while maintaining the 6th best eFG% themselves. It's a great combination aided by their 3rd highest 3Pr and 8th best 3P%, which is something the Wolves are going to have to guard against. The Cavs as a group are not afraid to pull the trigger from beyond the arc, and have seven or eight guys who are likely to play tonight and take more than two a game on average.
The Wolves can once again expect to be in a hole via the three as usual, and also must begin to improve on the boards, where the Cavs generally dominate. It's a tough ask, but the Wolves simply must compete for rebounds, with all five guys on the defensive end if necessary. Losing is one thing, watching what looks like minimal effort from multiple players to get to rebounds is another.
Andrew Wiggins, who has been struggling recently, had big games last season against the Cavaliers, the team that traded him to the Wolves for Kevin Love. In fact his first game against the Cavs, in Cleveland, was a bit of a turning point for his rookie year, when he began going aggressively to the basket to score and draw fouls instead of settling for contested jumpers as he had been doing.
Things have largely stagnated for Wiggins so far during his sophomore season, with little discernible improvement from either last season or during this season, but perhaps seeing the Cavs jerseys will jump start him. Getting Wiggins back on track is essential for the Wolves going forward.
Tonight begins a run of five straight games against teams currently in playoff spots: following the Cavs, the Wolves host the Mavericks and Thunder, then go on the road to face the Rockets and Thunder again, so wins are going to be hard to come by. Hopefully we at least will get to see some signs of individual and collective improvement if winning games is too high a bar.
Our blogging buddies are at Fear The Sword. Be excellent.
No pics, gifs, links to illegal streams.
Enjoy the game. Chat here. Go Wolves.