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Wolves at Cavaliers Preview: Opposite Directions

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The Wolves are hot, the Cavs are not. Will the trends continue tonight?

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Timberwolves began the 2016-17 season winning just six of their first 24 games. Since then, the Wolves have posted a record of 13-11 and have won eight of their last 11.

The Cleveland Cavaliers opened the 2016-17 season with a 23-6 record in their first 29 games. They are just a .500 team (9-9) since then. Most recently, the Cavs have lost four of their last six games -- three of which were against teams with a worse record than the Wolves.

Add in Andrew Wiggins’ career dominance against the Cavs (28.8 PPG, 57% FG, 59% 3pt FG in four games), and there are certainly a few trends in Minnesota’s favor ahead of tonight’s match-up.

Of course, trends are nice, but the Cavs are still the defending champs, and even without Kevin Love could find their rhythm at any time and start dominating again.

It took head coach Tom Thibodeau about six weeks to get his new team to play the kind of defense he expects. There are undoubtedly some kinks that still need to be worked out, but the numbers suggest rapid improvement has taken place.

Since Dec. 13 -- the night the Wolves pulled off an improbable comeback victory on national television against Thibs’ old team the Chicago Bulls — the Wolves are:

  • 7th in the NBA in defensive rating (105.2)
  • 8th in the NBA in net rating (1.9)
  • 5th in the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage (78.2)

The hump that got in the way for the Wolves in the beginning of the season was repeatedly finding hilarious and impossible ways to lose close games. It appears as if that hump has been cleared. Four of Minnesota’s last five wins have been either by three points or less (at LA Clippers, vs. Denver, at Phoenix) or in overtime (vs. Orlando).

It’s yet another trend going in Minnesota’s favor while Cleveland appears to have everything going against it. Could tonight be the night Wiggins finally gets a win against the team that drafted him first overall?

Expected Starting Lineups

Timberwolves

PG - Ricky Rubio

SG - Zach LaVine

SF - Andrew Wiggins

PF - Gorgui Dieng

C - Karl-Anthony Towns

Injuries: NONE (besides Pek, of course)

Cavaliers

PG - Kyrie Irving

SG - Iman Shumpert

SF - LeBron James

PF - Richard Jefferson

C - Tristan Thompson

Injuries: Kevin Love is OUT (back); J.R. Smith is OUT (thumb).

Four Factors

As we always do in game previews, let’s take a look at how the Wolves and Cavs match up using the Four Factors. Reminder, the Four Factors are effective field goal percentage (eFG%), turnover percentage (TOV%), offensive rebounding percentage (ORB%), and free throw rate (FTR).

Factor / Wolves / Cavs

eFG% / 50.9 / 53.1

TOV% / 15.0 / 13.9

ORB% / 26.9 / 23.4

FTR / .287 / .293

The sideshow that LeBron James and Charles Barkley have stirred up has me a little worried for this game. Barkley has been criticizing James for years and finally appears to have struck a nerve with James.

Barkley’s comments are either in James’ head and his performance will flounder because of it, or he’s pissed off at the world and plans on destroying anything in his path on Wednesday night.

This tweet about sums it up.

Prediction: Cavs 112, Wolves 101

Be sure to check out our friends at Fear The Sword during the game.