at CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
Tip-off: Wednesday, 8:00 p.m. ET
Line: NA, Total: NA
Cleveland will look to avoid a second straight embarrassment on their home court.
LeBron James says the Cavaliers should be moved off of national TV, and we can't help but agree. Cleveland has played dismally as of late, and they're closer in the standings to the No. 9 seed in the East than they are the No. 1. And with PF Kevin Love set to miss several weeks with an injured hand, there seems to be little reason to believe things will get better. There's been plenty of speculation as to whether the Cavs could trade the first-round draft pick they own from the Brooklyn Nets for a player that could boost their play, but with many believing James will leave in free agency after the season one way or another, such a trade might not be worth it. Unfortunately, Cleveland is on national TV again on Wednesday, when they'll host one of the NBA's best teams in the Minnesota Timberwolves. The acquisition of SF Jimmy Butler has bumped to Wolves to another level this season, and they appear primed to host a first-round playoff matchup in the West. The two teams played a month ago in one of Cleveland's many embarrassing losses from this season, a 127-99 T-Wolves win in Minnesota that was somehow far less close than they 28-point margin of victory indicates. The Wolves will have had three full days of rest by Wednesday, while the Cavs will be playing on the second night of a back-to-back after playing in Orlando on Tuesday.
If Butler and the Wolves keep it up, the former Chicago Bull could finish in the top five of MVP voting by the season's end. He's been on fire lately, scoring 28 points against the Bucks on Thursday and 30 points against the Pelicans on Saturday, both wins for Minnesota. He shot a combined 19-of-36 from the floor in the two games. In the blowout win over Cleveland last month, Butler posted 21 points, eight rebounds and nine assists in only 27 minutes on the court. Also going off in the game was SF Andrew Wiggins, who needed only 31 minutes to score 25 points. He only needs four points on Wednesday to reach 6,000 for his career, which will make him the sixth-youngest player to ever hit the milestone. It's a reminder that, while he has plenty of room for improvement, he's accomplished a lot at a young age. C Karl-Anthony Towns rounds out Minnesota's big three, and he's impressed the league this year by easily leading the entire NBA in double-doubles. He had an emphatic one on Saturday—his sixth straight—with 22 points and 16 rebounds. Starting PG Jeff Teague sat out when Cleveland visited Minnesota last month, but he'll be back in the lineup Wednesday. Rounding out the starting five is PF Taj Gibson, who is shooting 57.4% from the floor this season. His previous career vest was 52.6% in the 2015-16 season.
Butler led the Wolves with a plus-39 plus-minus against Cleveland in January, and LeBron was his mirror image with a career-worst rating of minus-39. Given LeBron has played more games than all but a few players in the history of the league, that's saying something. James and the Cavs were embarrassed again once more this past weekend, looking entirely listless in a 120-88 loss at home to Houston on Saturday. James had nine assists and nine rebounds, but his 11 points put him dangerously close to losing his 800-plus-game streak of scoring in double-digits. If fans are waiting for him to "flip a switch" to take his game to "another level" before the playoffs, they should stop holding their breath—and one wonders if he will even bother to fully invest in the playoffs this year with this supporting cast. PG Isaiah Thomas, who was supposed to be a worthy scorer once he returned from injury, has been anything but that. He has been wildly inefficient as a shooter, not to mention the same mediocre defender he has always been. One imagines that his numbers will go up, but he has been visibly limited by the lingering effects of injury. He may not be long for Cleveland. SF Jae Crowder has also magically lost a step (or two, or three) since coming over from Boston, and doesn't add much to this team. C Tristan Thompson is a valuable role player as a bruiser on the inside, but his one-dimensional game starts to get exposed once he has to play serious minutes, which he now does thanks to the Love injury. SGs J.R Smith and Dwyane Wade look washed up, as does PG Derrick Rose, obviously. Wade won't be traded, but just about every other non-LeBron player on this team is a candidate for being dealt. The question is, who wants them?