The focus on Kevin Love as he returned to Minneapolis to play against the Minnesota Timberwolves made it even easier for LeBron James to shine, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 106-90 win making it their 10th in a row, having another fantastic duel with the player he pushed out before even playing next to him, Andrew Wiggins.
It’s hard to tell if there are any hard feelings. The Timberwolves made fun of Love in their homecoming video and Love is obviously happy that he’s now playing for a team that will take him to the playoff for the first time in his career. He scored just 14 points on his return, adding 17 rebounds as he shot just 6-of-14 from the field and 1-of-5 from beyond the arc. He doesn’t need to do a lot more these days, not when he’s playing next to James and Kyrie Irving.
James led the way with 36 points, averaging 29.9 points per game since coming back from his injury. One of the wins in the current streak which is the second longest in the league happened without him. It seems like the Cavaliers have turned a corner, and playing against the worst team in the NBA made it even easier to show how everything is working properly and in sync at the moment. Even with Irving shooting 4-of-16 from the field and scoring 12 points, there was never really a question of who is going to win this game.
This season has quickly turned out to be about development and setting a foundation for the future for the Timberwolves. The dowry they got for Love consists of Anthony Bennett, finishing with 0 points in 13 minutes and looks more and more like a lost cause, averaging 5.4 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, a draft pick they used to turn into Thaddeus Young who is doing as expected, averaging 14.2 points per game and Andrew Wiggins, who’ll be the rookie of the year at the end of this season and a player that seems like a solid bet to rely on for years to come.
Wiggins has turned a corner over the last six weeks, and once again showed his offensive abilities in a 33-point performance, matching James shot for shot as the two of them hit 14-of-25 from the field. Both of them are averaging 30 points in the games against each other and shooting at an almost identical efficiency rate, with Wiggins making one more field goal on 41 attempts compared to James, but the zero wins in two games means a bit more.
It was a career high for Wiggins, hitting 56% of his shots and turning the ball over just once. He is only the 4th player at the age of 19 or younger to score 30 points or more on 55% from the field or better with just one turnover or less. People expected it was going to take time for Wiggins’ offense to catch up with his defense, but he has really turned a corner midway through December. He finished January with a 19.8 points per game average for the month. It had something to do with playing time rising to 38.4 a night, but also him shooting 47.1% from the field.
But the bigger story right now are the Cavs and their 10 straight wins. Compared to the 10 games prior to the winning streak in which they one only one, the Cavaliers’ offensive efficiency has improved by more than 20 points per 100 possessions, their net efficiency has changed from a -14.4 to +13.5. James playing in nine of those games compared to just two in the losing stretch, but it’s not just his presence, but mostly his ability, and how that has affected the rest of his teammates.