Cavaliers vs. Timberwolves (8pm ET Friday, ESPN)
The Cleveland Cavaliers have won five in a row, and at 24-9 lead the East with the third-best record in the league, behind only the Warriors and Spurs. Kyrie Irving finally returned on December 20, and since then the Cavs are 8-2, including 6-1 in games in which Irving has played, during which he’s averaging 17.4 points, 2.7 rebounds and 4 assists a game, in just 24 minutes. On Wednesday, Irving and LeBron James each dropped 30 on the Wiz in a 121-115 victory.
After 33 games last season, the Cavs had only won 19, at which point they dropped 6 straight, falling to 19-20. This year’s edition is way ahead, and they’ve managed to do it largely without Irving, and with James playing a career-low 35.8 minutes. Let’s hope we get the Finals rematch we desperately deserve, with both teams having improved and at full health.
The Minnesota Timberwolves jumped out to an 8-8 start, with wins over the Hawks (twice!), Bulls and Heat. Since then, they’re 4-16, and have just one win in their last 9 games. Reigning Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins’ points are up, but his rebounds and assists are down, and is expected to play despite a sore thumb. His successor as the league’s overall #1 draft pick, Karl-Anthony Towns, is poised to succeed him as Rookie of the Year as well, averaging 15.9 points and 9.5 rebounds in just 28.9 minutes. And with point guard Ricky Rubio among the league leaders in assists and steals, the Wolves have a chance to be pretty good… in a couple of years.
Thunder vs. Lakers (10:30pm ET Friday, ESPN)
The Oklahoma City Thunder (25-11, 3rd in the West) beat the Los Angeles Lakers (8-29, 15th in the West) twice in the span of 4 days last month, by a combined 75 points, despite no one on the Thunder scoring more than 23 points. How do you win so decisively without anyone lighting it up? The Thunder made 54.2% of their shots, the Lakers just 35.4%; they outrebounded LA by 25 a game; blocked more than twice as many shots; and averaged 9 more assists a game. The Thunder, led by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, simply do everything better than Kobe’s Lakers. The Lakers’ 19-year-old rookie D’Angelo Russell excused himself from last night’s 118-115 loss to Sacramento, suffering from a sprained ankle, and is questionable for tonight’s game.