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Cleveland Cavaliers (3-3) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (2-4)
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Last games: Minnesota: L 92-88 vs Memphis, Cleveland: L 92-77 vs Toronto
The Timberwolves lost a disappointing game to the Grizzlies on Wednesday. The Grizzlies were without Zach Randolph, and the Wolves defended well, but struggled to score, shooting just 40% from the field and 33% from behind the arc. The Wolves, despite being 2-4, have outscored their opponents this season 588-575.
Cleveland was beaten badly in the second night of a back to back by a Toronto team with a much improved defense. The number 1 pick last year’s draft, Kyrie Irving, struggled mightily from the field, shooting just 3-13 for 12 points. The Cavaliers have had a feather pillow soft schedule so far compared to Minnesota, with their three wins coming against Charlotte, New Jersey, and Detroit.
The Key Questions
#1. What happened to Minnesota’s offense?
In the aftermath of Monday’s win over San Antonio, everybody was a little giddy from the win (including myself), and justifiably so. It was a big win against a tough opponent. But what most people ignored was the fact that, despite beating the Spurs by 10, Minnesota scored just 12 points in the fourth quarter.
The trend became more disturbing against Memphis as Minnesota continued to struggle from the floor. A glance at the shot chart shows a positive progression for the Wolves, who shot a ton of mid range jumpers in the first quarter and virtually nothing in the paint, but shot less from mid range and more in the paint as the game went on.
Obviously, the Wolves won’t need to shoot 70% from the floor like they did for the first three quarters against San Antonio, but they will need to take better shots to win.
In other offensive news, the Wolves are averaging a league-leading 19 turnovers per game. We knew that the Wolves would probably turn it over quite a bit this year. After all, they led the league in turnovers last year and their biggest offseason addition was Rubio, advertised as a fancy player who occasionally has problems with (say it with me) turning the ball over.
But those 19 turnovers mean 19 possessions in which the Wolves couldn’t even allow Michael Beasley to take a long two pointer. And, as an offense, why would you want to rob Beasley of his long two pointers?!
#2. Wait, HOW CAN CLEVELAND HAVE A BETTER RECORD THAN US?!
Relax, understandably upset Timberwolves fan. The Cavs, thus far, have played Toronto twice (they lost both times), Charlotte, New Jersey, Indiana, and Detroit. That is a feather pillow soft schedule. The only team with a winning record out of that bunch is Indiana.
Minnesota, on the other hand, has faced Miami, OKC…you know the drill because we’ve covered the difficult opening schedule roughly 450,000,000 times here at HowlinTwolf. Just know that the same karmic intervention that gave Cleveland the 1st and 4th picks in the draft (which, for my money, they kind of squandered) is continuing to love on the Cavs and hate on the Wolves as the season begins.
#3. So the schedule gets easier after this?
Oh man, does it ever. The Timberwolves have their back-to-back-to-back starting on Sunday, but the first two games are against Washington and Toronto. The third is against Chicago, so don’t be surprised if Minnesota loses that one by 30. But the rest of the month of January features ten teams currently under .500 including Dallas, who Minnesota already beat, as well as the Spurs, again at the Target Center.
If Minnesota can come out of its first 7 games 3-4, considering the competition they faced, I’d say that’s incredibly encouraging.
The Key Matchups
Rubio appears to be feeling the heat to improve.
“We’re young, and we are going to improve, but we have to do it right now,” he told the Timberwolves official website.
One way to improve would be to get rookie Derrick Williams some big minutes tonight, which will probably happen if the Wolves can get up a comfortable lead on the Cavs. If that happens, expect a slightly entertaining, if meaningless, battle of the #1 and #2 picks of the draft.
The Cavaliers’ high scorer is Antawn Jamison, who is so washed up you can put him up to your ear and hear the ocean. He was never a good defender and old age hasn’t been treating him well. Jamison? Meet Kevin Love. Enjoy.
Beasley seems to play better against better competition. Omri Casspi is a passable small forward, but Beasley will have HUGE mismatch potential. In my game notes, I keep track of Good Beas/Bad Beas. Every time Beasley shoots a jumper, I tally “Bad Beas” even if it goes in. Every time he starts a play with his back to the basket or when he slashes to the hoop, I tally “Good Beas” even if it misses. Let’s hope for a lot of Good Beas tonight.
JJ Barea remains questionable and while it would be nice to see him back, it would probably be ok if Minnesota decided to give him one more recovery day before the back to back to back starts.
ESPN’s oddsmakers say that the Timberwolves are a 77% favorite in this game. While that feels generous, frankly, the Cavs kind of suck. Memphis was a winnable game. This is a must-win.
Game starts at 7 PM on Fox Sports North