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Game #56 Preview: What’s Valentine’s Day without Love?

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The Wolves look to wrap up their six-game home stand with a win against the defending champions.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (21-34) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (37-16)

Where: Target Center — Minneapolis, Minnesota

When: 7:00 pm CST (TV coverage on NBATV and Fox Sports North)

Why: A former top-5 pick from the Pac-12 returns to Minneapolis in search of revenge against the team that drafted him.

The Wolves return to action tonight as they host the Cleveland Cavaliers in the final game of their six-game home stand. With only two games remaining before the All-Star break, the Wolves currently sit four games back of the Denver Nuggets in the muddied race for the 8th spot in the Western Conference.

A lot has changed in the two weeks since the Wolves last faced the Cavs. On the Wolves side, Zach LaVine went down with a torn ACL, Lance Stephenson was signed to a 10-day contract, and on Monday season-ticket holders began receiving information announcing that the Wolves would officially be making a much-needed change to their logo for the upcoming 2017-2018 season:

Despite everything that has gone on over the last few weeks (and months), the Wolves successfully notched their 21st win of the season a full month earlier than they did last year:

Speaking of the number 21! With his 27-point performance on Sunday against the corpse of the Chicago Bulls, Andrew Wiggins joined some elite company by being one of four active players (age 21 or younger) to score 21 points or more in at least thirteen straight games:

On the Cavs side, the main theme continues to be the barrage of injuries that have sidelined key players like Kevin Love, Iman Shumpert, and J.R. Smith. Smith has been out since before Christmas with a broken thumb and Shumpert has been suffering from a sprained ankle, but the big news here is Kevin Love and his ailing left knee. Love also missed the first contest against the Wolves on February 1st with back spasms, but the knee injury appears to be far more concerning:

With Kevin Love now likely out through the end of March, the Cavs have turned to another highly-drafted forward from the Pac-12 to help keep their chances of securing home court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs alive...

After being released on February 6th by the Miami Heat, Derrick Williams quickly signed a 10-day contract with the Cavaliers in hopes of salvaging his career and providing a much-needed spark to a suddenly depleted Cavalier roster. The former No. 2 pick of the 2011 NBA Draft by the Wolves (one selection after the Cavs selected Kyrie Irving), Williams has bounced around the league with stints in Sacramento and the New York Knicks before signing a one-year deal worth $5 million dollars with the Miami Heat this past summer. The Williams signing now means the Cavaliers currently roster three of the top four selected players from that 2011 draft.

In his two games with the Cavs thus far, Williams is averaging 22-minutes and has poured in 9.5 points a game. While the numbers don’t necessarily jump off the page, it appears he has already done more than enough to impress the Cavaliers’ (de facto) GM:

“And now, your starting lineups...”

Expected Starting Lineups

Minnesota Timberwolves
PG - Ricky Rubio
SG - Brandon Rush
SF - Andrew Wiggins
PF - Gorgui Dieng
C - Karl-Anthony Towns

Cleveland Cavaliers
PG - Kyrie Irving
SG - Iman Shumpert
SF - LeBron James
PF - Channing Frye
C - Tristan Thompson

Injuries

Timberwolves: Zach LaVine (knee), Adreian Payne (illness), and Nikola Pekovic (ankle) are OUT.

Cavaliers: Kevin Love (knee) and J.R. Smith (thumb) are OUT.

Four Factors

As we always do in game previews, let’s take a look at how the Wolves and Cavaliers 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 / Cavaliers

eFG% / 51.0% / 54.0%

TOV% / 14.8 / 14.0

ORB% / 27.0% / 23.3%

FTR / .287 / .292

The Cavaliers are 37-16 for a reason. Currently 4th in the NBA in offensive rating (110.6), the Cavaliers eFG% places them 3rd overall, only behind the Golden State Warriors (57.1%) and Houston Rockets (55.0%). The defending champs pick and choose what nights they want to defend, resulting in a defensive rating that ranks 21st in the league (106.3). The Wolves defensive rating (108.3) has been even worse, placing them 23rd overall.

The Wolves one key strength all season has been their ORB%, which currently ranks 5th. The Cavs will counter with Tristan Thompson, who is 4th in the league in offensive rebounds per game (3.6) and racked up 8 offensive boards against the Wolves just two weeks ago. As the All-Star break quickly approaches, tonight’s matchup may simply come down to which team is less transfixed by the upcoming week-long vacation.

Prediction: Wolves 114, Cavaliers 106