Cleveland Cavaliers (25-9) 125
Minnesota Timberwolves (12-25) 99
“Grampa, did Andrew Wiggins really play for the Cavaliers?” my grandson will ask me in the not-so-distant future; his big eyes full of curiosity and wonder.
“Well, Chewbacca Jr.,” I’ll say as we ride our hoverboards through Instagram Arena to get a halftime order of space nachos, “Not exactly. The Cavaliers traded Wiggins before he ever played in a regular season game.”
“Why Grampa? Wasn’t Wiggins really good?”
“Yes,” I’ll continue. “But the Cavs needed to win right away, and didn’t have time to wait for Wiggins to become good. You see that right there?” I’ll point to the Cavs 2015-16 or 2016-17 Eastern Conference Championship banner (hopefully with an NBA Championship banner immediately beside it) with the index finger on my robotic hand. “The Cavs may have never won that had they kept Wiggins.”
“Ohhhh,” Chewbacca Jr. will say, feigning understanding.
“Plus, Wiggins was stylistically similar to LeBron James and therefore a redundant position whose usage would have been incongruous with sound roster construction. Also, the Cavs lacked serious frontcourt depth at the time and needed a versatile power forward more than a shooting guard who couldn’t shoot or a backup small forward.”
“What, are you still talking Grampa? Shut up,” he’ll say, returning to his iPhone 47S to Face-Skype with his friends. I’ll take a pull of my whiskey flask before telling my hoverboard to take me back to my seat.
The Cavs won on Friday night in Minnesota. It was fun! Let’s go behind the box score and see how fun.
125 – Monday’s edition of “Behind the Box Score” discussed how the Cavalier offense has been on a rampage of late, alluding to the team’s first 120-point game streak since last season. The Cavs kept the rumbling train a running, scoring 125 points on Friday night and tying a franchise record with a third straight game in which they’ve scored 120 or more points. They also set a new high-mark on the season with 125 points. The Cavs have scored 111.0 points per game during their six-game win streak, and had the most efficient offense in the NBA over that span with an other-worldly 118.4 offensive rating. They’ve outscored opponents by 16.0 points per 100 possessions, and though a regression in shooting seems inevitable, the Cavs will cruise to 60 wins if they continue to play offense like this.
50 – Normally the likes of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving hog the praise in this space with their incredible feats of awesomeness and whatnot. But not tonight. Tonight, Cavalier shooting guards Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith combined for 50 points with a tremendous double effort. Shumpert scored in a variety of ways, making three three-pointers and being aggressive with the ball. Shumpert finished with 25 points — his high in a Cavalier uniform. It was only the third time in Shumperts career that he attempted 19 or more field goals. Shumpert and his ninja hands added four steals.
Meanwhile, J.R. Smith shot 10-of-12 from the floor for 27 points, a season high and only the fourth time he’s reached 27 points as a Cavalier. Smith has averaged over 25 points per game over the Cavs’ last three while shooting 62.2/60.0/100.0.1 Though Smith allowed Andrew Wiggins to find his rhythm early when the Timberwolves attacked Smith on their first three possessions of the game (leading to seven points), Smith has still played some of the best basketball of his career over the Cavs winning streak. He’s shooting with confidence in space, and putting the ball on the floor without hesitation (yay good dribbling!). At halftime, Andrew Wiggins talked about how Minnesota’s strategy to switch him onto Kyrie Irving was “working” because Kyrie Irving and LeBron James hadn’t scored much. That was some dubious reasoning, as J.R. Smith had been busy assaulting poor Ricky Rubio on every possession as the Cavs built a double-digit lead.
26 – While Smith and Shumpert were having their best offensive games of the year, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James were able to slack off on offense — a rare luxury for the Cavs. They combined for only 26 points, each with 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting. Irving was fine on offense absent some horrendous possessions at the start of the second quarter when he didn’t even try to run something resembling an offense. James was two assists short of his first triple-double of the season, and was effective directing the offense. However, James’ jump shot continued to mock him on Friday (he was a putrid 0-of-5 away from the basket, and was one turnaround jumper in the fourth quarter from being zero-ed outside the lane). With Shumpert and Smith leading the way on Friday, this will probably be the last time all season that neither James, Irving, or Love are one of the top two scorers.
22 to 5 – The Cavs ran in transition early on Friday and didn’t relent until the fourth quarter, outscoring the Timberwolves 22 to 5 in fastbreak points. Minnesota’s most obvious flaw is their absence of quality shooting. They have no reliable three-point shooters unless you’re compelled want to count Kevin Martin. They have the worst shooting starting five in the league and make the fewest threes in the league with five per game — a bold strategy in the NBA in 2016.
The ‘Wolves had poor floor balance to accompany their unimpressive shooting on Friday — failing to retreat in transition after missed shots. This freed the Cavs to run the floor for easy buckets. It was doubly bad because the Cavs didn’t even pretend to defend shooters like Ricky Rubio or Tayshaun Prince, allowing players like James to help from the weak side or leak out seconds before the Cavs even secured the defensive rebound, such as in the play below where James had time to do a crossword puzzle, order a pizza, and gather himself for a windmill dunk before the Timberwolves caught up to him. The Cavs had 16 fastbreak points in the first half compared to zero for the ‘Wolves, which conveniently explains Minnesota’s 16-point deficit going into halftime.
35 – Andrew Wiggins scored 35 points on Friday, setting a new career high, thus re-setting the career high he earned against the Cavaliers last January. Wiggins appears determined to torture the Cavs for his entire career after the team drafted him and subsequently traded him for Kevin Love. Mission accomplished so far. Wiggins is borderline unstoppable against the Cavs, having scored 27, 33, and 35 points in three games (all losses, mind you). Wiggins knocks down jump shots like Stephen Curry against the Cavs, even though he’s shooting 23.3 percent on threes so far this season. The Wiggins-for-Love trade has already been vindicated — it’s already a success. The Cavs made the Finals last season, and would rather have a power forward that gobbles up rebounds and spaces the floor than a young dynamo who can’t make a quarter of his threes and shows up every fifth game. Wiggins will have a spectacular career, but you don’t know what you’re talking about if you think the Cavs shouldn’t have made the trade for Love. And that doesn’t change just because Wiggins looks like a young Michael Jordan every time he plays the Cavs.