By: Dan Slaubaugh
The unpredictable Minnesota Timberwolves host the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight as they look to finish off a six-game homestand with a bang. Cleveland will be without power forward Kevin Love for the second time this season against Minnesota, so they'll once again need to find a way to replace his production. Seriously though, how ironic is it that Cleveland will be without Love on Valentine's Day?
Tristian Thompson was the guy to step up against Minnesota when the Wolves got blown out in Cleveland in the beginning of February, hauling in 18 points and 14 rebounds. The Wolves simply had no answer for the former Longhorn, as they don't with many opposing physical bigs. Removing Love from the lineup certainly hurts Cleveland, but Thompson seems to have no trouble dealing with Minnesota's bigs. Tom Thibodeau will assuredly gameplan around this, setting up Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng to garner most of the defensive and rebounding load against the big bruiser.
The matchup to watch - as per usual between the teams - will certainly be Andrew Wiggins and LeBron James. However, the point guard dual between Ricky Rubio and Kyrie Irving should be a treat to watch as well. Rubio - aka Italian Pete Maravich - has dazzled as of late, averaging 13 points and 11 assists on 42% shooting from the field and 36% shooting from behind the arc in the five games since LaVine has been out. Kyrie Irving - aka Uncle Drew - boasts some of the best handles and playmaking skills in the league. Pair that with elite scoring ability in crunch-time and you've got a top five point guard in the league. Friends, meet Kyrie Irving.
Back to Wiggins and LeBron. The Kansas product has certainly held his own versus "The King" so far in his NBA career (27.6 PPG, 56.2% FG, 53.8% 3pt FG), but has yet to walk away victorious against the team that drafted him.
The third-year guard enters Tuesday averaging 22.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game. With a 27-point effort against Chicago on Sunday, Wiggins has now scored 20 or more points in 13 straight games - the longest streak by a Wolves player since Kevin Love in 2014. Wiggins needs three more 20-point games in a row to tie Kevin Garnett's franchise record for the longest streak.
Since Kevin Love won't be playing in front of his former crowd tonight, it's only fair to talk about one who will - Derrick Williams. The former Wildcat - who has shined in nine games against the Wolves - is currently on the sixth day of a 10-day contract he signed with Cleveland.
"In nine games against the Wolves, Williams has scored the most points per game (12.8) and has his highest field goal percentage (54.8) against the Wolves than any other team. His career offensive rating against the Wolves is second to his mark against Orlando. And hits his fourth-highest 3-point percentage against the Wolves. His 4.9 rebounds against the Wolves are his third-highest against an individual team." - 1500ESPN
Williams is currently trying to receive another 10-day contract with the Cavs, so he'll be even more inspired to bring it tonight against his former team.
Nonetheless, the story of this game is - and will always be as long as LeBron is in Cleveland - the matchup between Andrew Wiggins and LeBron James.
Wiggins will be poised to come away with his first victory against LeBron in front of a packed Target Center crowd and it sure would help if Karl-Anthony Towns could help him out by casually putting up 30/12. Oh, Kris Dunn running a second unit offense better than Lance Stephenson would be welcome to.
Much like the last meeting between the two teams, I think this will be a high scoring affair. Believe it or not, the Cavs are actually much better defensively with Love on the floor this season. On the other side, the Wolves defense had been terrible lately until Sunday's win against the depleted Bulls, which gave Tom Thibodeau a season sweep against his former team. Unfortunately, I think the Wolves will get less stops tonight than the Cavs do.
Wolves lose 115-108. Wiggins will have to wait another year for a chance at revenge.