Welcome to Part 24 in our series previewing each of the Timberwolves’ opponents and the respective upcoming season series.
Tale of the tape: Minnesota, to the surprise of nobody, was swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers last season. What did surprise many, however, is how close the second of the two games was.
Despite the entire Cavs starting lineup scoring in double figures, the Wolves only lost the second game by seven points, and had they not lost the third quarter by six, they may have won that game. Andrew Wiggins had 20 against the team that originally drafted him, and Karl-Anthony Towns added 26 points and 11 rebounds.
The Cavaliers took the title last year, so they were expected to beat up on lower-tier teams like the Timberwolves. However, Minnesota looks like their starting to close the gap on those elite teams, as shown by the result of that latter showdown in Cleveland.
Dunleavy is a 13-year veteran who has the ability to play three positions on the court. He saw a substantial drop in minutes in an injury-shortened season in Chicago, and it’s hard to determine exactly what his role will be with the Cavs. My guess is he will see quite a bit of time, should he stay healthy, and most of that time should be seen at small forward.
Andersen also missed a lot of last season due to injury. However, he could see a big chunk of minutes due to his familiarity with LeBron James from their time together in Miami. The Birdman plays hard, but certainly doesn’t warrant any special attention.
Kay Felder was acquired in the draft. The rookie out of Oakland has had a really good preseason and should fit right into the regular season rotation. He’s currently the only other true point guard on the roster with the status of Mo Williams still in question.
Felder is a plus shooter, and the Wolves will have to keep that in mind on the defensive end. This is another match-up where I’m interested to see how Kris Dunn performs.
What’s the same? To put it simply: almost everything.
Let’s begin with the starting lineup of Kyrie Irving, J.R. Smith, LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Tristan Thompson. Kyrie is one of the best all-around point guards in the league, and, in my opinion, is on the same level as Stephen Curry.
J.R. Smith is perhaps one of the most underrated shooter in the league. Sure, he takes some bad shots at times, but has been lethal from deep during his time in Cleveland, especially in catch-and-shoot situations.
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LeBron James. That is all.
Kevin Love’s production has dropped significantly since leaving Minnesota, but I suppose that’s what comes when you go from being the first option on the floor to as low as the fourth at times. He’s still got range, and his rebounding ability is a huge plus, especially when he has help.
And Tristian Thompson is that help. This is the biggest hole in the starting five for the Cavs, and that’s saying something. He’s adequate at best on the offensive end of the floor and terrible from the line. But even, if you exploit him offensively, Cleveland still has so many other options they can go to for points. Minnesota will have to take away second chances at the very least.
The Cavaliers will also have the likes of Iman Shumpert and Channing Frye returning off the bench. Shumpert sees a lot of time J.R. Smith, and his numbers didn’t really reflect his impact last year. He only averaged six points and four rebounds, but he allows guys like LeBron to move freely and facilitate mismatches on either side.
Frye played perfectly into the Cavaliers’ style last season. He’s a good low post man, but has the capability of stepping out and draining open shots. With him getting up there in age, however, his conditioning may not be at the same level as that of the Timberwolves’ bench, and they could potentially run him out of the game.
Richard Jefferson brings another tier of leadership to the Cleveland lineup. His minutes will probably be limited this season, and it’s even a bit of surprise that he didn’t retire after the Cavs won last year’s title.
My prediction? This is the match-up I am the most pessimistic about for the Wolves.
With the Cavs returning nearly every key piece of their championship team from a year ago, they will be tough to beat, and frankly, any team with LeBron James is tough to beat.
Unfortunately, I just don’t see the Timberwolves getting over the top and beating the Cavaliers this season. They will only see them twice, with both times coming in February. Cleveland will be the cream of the crop this year, and with both games so late in the year, the Cavs will likely be in top form.
The first of the two February meetings will take place on the first of the month in Cleveland and will be a nationally-televised broadcast on ESPN.