MINNEAPOLIS — Two teams on completely different paths met Friday night at Target Center.
With their eyes set on returning to the NBA Finals, the Cavaliers thoroughly dominated the Wolves, who still need plenty of seasoning before even putting themselves in the postseason conversation. Cleveland entered tonight's matchup having won five straight and Kyrie Irving is quickly showing he's fully healed over the fractured kneecap he suffered in last seasons Finals.
The Cavaliers are 6-1 since Irving's return, but tonight was more about an entire team dominating rather than any one individual, and that's the recipe for any true championship contender. J.R. Smith scored a season-high 27 points on 12 shots in 19 minutes. Iman Shumpert added 23 points, another season-high, and four steals in almost 29 minutes. LeBron (do I need to type James?) finished two assists shy of nabbing his 40th career triple-double.
Kevin Love, in his second game in Minneapolis after being dealt two summers ago to bring Andrew Wiggins and another complete rebuild back to the Wolves, finished with 20 points, nine rebounds, and four assists. Matthew Dellavedova played excellent on-ball defense while Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov cleaned up the glass, specifically on the offensive end where they combined for seven offensive rebounds.
It was complete domination, in all facets of the game, as the Cavaliers ran away with the win, 125-99. Cleveland’s 125 points marked a new season high (previously 122 vs. Toronto, Jan. 4). They controlled the paint, outscoring the Wolves 40-30 and outrebounding them 43-33, nailed 13 3-pointers to Minnesota's seven, won the free throw battle with 26 makes to 20, and shocked the Wolves with lightning quick offense in transition (22-5 in fast break points).
For the Wolves, there were three positives: Andrew Wiggins scored 35 points, his career-high, and looked tremendous as a scoring wing. Shabazz Muhammad poured in a season-high 22 points off the bench as he continued to demonstrate his catch-and-shoot ability and willingness to attack in transition when the offense is sputtering in halfcourt sets, and Karl-Anthony Towns added 22 points, six rebounds, and three assists on 11-14 shooting.
"That's a superstar," Towns said when asked if he saw another gear from Wiggins against the Cavaliers. "We have a superstar, so we try to give him the ball as much as possible, especially me. When Wig is open and has a hand up, and I can see his hand, I'm throwing Wig the ball. We'll do everything we can to get him open."
Muhammad was asked about the turnovers that led to Cleveland's fastbreak points. "That's something that Karl and I were talking about," he responded.
"I said, 'man, every little possession we mess up on, they capitalize on.' That's one of the best teams in the NBA. I think it was a good learning experience for us because we're so young. We've just got to know the value of the ball because we want to be a championship team one day. We look at that and want to learn from it."
In the most basic sense, nothing else about the game was positive for the Wolves. The rest of the team scored 20 points on 7-33 (21.2%). Pekovic looked rusty and couldn't move well whatsoever, which is to be expected at this point as he works to get back in game shape from his severe injury (Achilles), while Zach LaVine's severe slump (1-6, -14) continues. Nemanja Bjelica looks completely lost out on the floor, another development I haven't fully come to understand yet other than his role dramatically shifted after getting injured earlier in the season and he hasn't regained the trust of the coaching staff.
Then there's Kevin Garnett and Gorgui Dieng who were essentially non-factors, but neither positive or negative contributors on the night.
Andrew Wiggins clowns Kevin Love and blows past him for dunk pic.twitter.com/RmBu6oUZJr— gifdsports (@gifdsports) January 9, 2016
Steve Kaplan, the minority owner of the Memphis Grizzlies who is in negotiations with current Wolves owner Glen Taylor on buying a reported 30% stake in the franchise, with eyes on a majority stake down the road, sat next to Taylor courtside tonight.
Wiggins on playing the Cavaliers...
"It was one of the bigger trades last year, so it's always going to be about something. Whether the fans want to tone it up, the media wants to tone it up ... it's motivation for the players, too."
On his game...
"I was just playing my game. I hit my first shots and I got going early."
"Losing is never fun. The only thing you get out of losing is learning. We're just learning every day, in every loss, we're learning, we're gaining experience. When we start winning, it's going to be a fun time for all of us."
Tonight was Wiggins' fifth 30+ point game of the season. He last went for 30+ against Sacramento on Dec. 18. He's the 28th player in franchise history to score 35+ points in a game, while his nine career 30+ point games match Michael Beasley (!!!) and Ricky Davis (!!!) for ninth on the team's list of 30-point performances (Garnett, 82).
Muhammad was 2-3 from 3-point land, improving to 11-21 from long range in his last 12 games. The team went 7-16 from deep tonight, their most 3-pointers since making eight at Phoenix on Dec. 13 (what a sad stat).
Cleveland shot 53.1% from the field, which marked the 10th game this season they've shot above 50% (10-0).
Kevin Love on playing back in Minnesota:
"As far as seeing all the people I still have relationships with, it's really nice. I'll see a couple people here after the game. I told them I miss it. I want to come back and hang with them in the summer. It's a place that will always be one of my homes and a place I hope I'll always come back to."
LeBron on J.R. Smith:
"He's definitely a rhythm player, but at the same time our offense helps him a lot. We look for him a lot. We just want him to shoot the ball, man. He has the ability to go for 15, 17 in a quarter. Tonight was one of those instances where every time he got the ball, we wanted him to keep taking them. He's been taking great shots. He's been taking great shots. He hasn't taken many heat check shots this year, and I think that's just helped him stay in a rhythm."