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Wolves at Cavaliers: A Sweep of LeBron?

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The Wolves travel to Cleveland to battle the reeling Cavaliers in an attempt to sweep LeBron James’ teams for the first time in 14 years.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Defeating a LeBron James-led squad has proved difficult for the Minnesota Timberwolves since James entered the NBA.

LeBron James is entered this season 22-5 in his career against the Timberwolves — and four of those losses came in the first three seasons of his career. James went on a 20-1 run against Minnesota from the 2006-07 season through 2016-17.

Wednesday night offers an opportunity for the Timberwolves to sweep a LeBron-led team for the first time since, you guessed it, the 2003-04 season — James’ rookie season and the Western Conference Finals berth.

Minnesota started to buck the trend when it absolutely demolished the Cavaliers at Target Center 127-99 in a game that was much more lopsided than the score indicates. James finished with a game-worst -39 — which also happened to be the worst mark of his career.

Andrew Wiggins put together his typical performance against the team that drafted him — 25 points on 9-for-19 shooting with six rebounds. Karl-Anthony Towns tallied yet another double-double and Jimmy Butler recorded a routine 21 points on only 13 shot attempts.

It’s not as if Minnesota was firing on all cylinders from beyond the three-point arc — let’s be honest, that rarely happens — as the Wolves only made 10 of 31 attempts. Cleveland just broke down defensively the entire game. The Cavs refused to get back in transition on defense and didn’t even try to rotate on help defense.

That game is a microcosm of the Cavaliers over the last couple of months. Since their Dec. 19 loss to Milwaukee, the Cavs are 7-14 (27th in the NBA) with a defensive rating of 111.7 (29th in the NBA). Seven of Cleveland’s 14 losses in that span are by at least 14 points, and four are at least 24-point margins.

Meanwhile, Minnesota has flourished in that same time span. Its 16 wins is tied for third in the NBA and its offensive rating is 113.1, good enough for best in the NBA. Related — it might be best to bet the over tonight.

Statistically, James is having one of the best seasons of his career in his age-33 season. His per-game averages of 26 points, eight rebounds and eight assists with a field-goal percentage over 54 percent is truly bananas. The Cavaliers remain just third in the Eastern Conference, however, due to a combination of complete defensive breakdowns or a complete lack of effort on that end of the floor.

The Cavaliers might have to score 130 points tonight to beat the Timberwolves given their current defensive pace.

Expected Starting Lineups

Timberwolves

PG - Jeff Teague
SG - Jimmy Butler
SF - Andrew Wiggins
PF - Taj Gibson
C - Karl-Anthony Towns

Cavaliers

PG - Isaiah Thomas
SG - JR Smith
SF - LeBron James
PF - Jae Crowder
C - Tristan Thompson

Injuries: Kevin Love (finger) and Dwyane Wade (illness) both OUT.

Four Factors

Factor / Wolves / Cavs

eFG% / .523 / .540

TOV% / .115 / .133

ORB% / .251 / .195

FT/FTA / .225 / .224

Other Notes

  • Andrew Wiggins’ per-game scoring averages against the team that drafted him remain absurd. He’s at 29.1 points on 54.7 percent shooting and over 48 percent from three-point range in seven career games against Cleveland. Quick, enter Wiggins into your daily fantasy basketball lineup tonight.
  • Karl-Anthony Towns has 47 double-doubles in 56 games this season, which leads the NBA by very wide margin. Russell Westbrook is second with 38. Towns has recorded a double-double in 19 of his last 20 games. Seems like the Wolves have had a double-double machine on the roster for the better part of the last two decades, whether it be Garnett, Love or Towns.

Prediction

Cleveland just had the wind knocked out of them in Orlando last night after getting embarrassed by one of the NBA’s worst teams. A fix for the defensive issues is nowhere to be found and Minnesota boasts one of the hottest offenses in the NBA.

Minnesota gets its first sweep of a LeBron James-led team in 14 years.

Timberwolves 124, Cavaliers 118