Timberwolves vs. Thunder (7pm ET Friday, ESPN)
It’s been quite a month for Rookie of the Year candidate Karl-Anthony Townes, as he’s averaged a double-double over the last 16 games, traveled the world with his cat and been anointed a future “Hall-of-Famer” by no less an authority than Kevin Durant. Unfortunately, over that span, his Timberwolves have gone 3-13 and lost their last 8. There’s a team-wide shooting problem, especially from 3-point range, where the ‘Wolves rank last in attempts and makes, and 25th in percentage. Guard Ricky Rubio, who’s 5th in the league in assists, ranks dead last in 2-point shooting percentage among guys who’ve played 1,000 minutes, making just 35.9% of his shots.
Durant’s praise for Townes came in the wake of a 101-96 victory by the Thunder over the ‘Wolves, in which Durant scored 30 to Townes’ 14. The Thunder have now won 21 of 27 after a rocky start under rookie coach Billy Donovan, a span that included a two-week absence by Durant. At 28-12, the Thunder have the 4th-best record in the NBA, and Durant is back in full swing, averaging 27-8-4. To put Durant’s greatness in historical context, he’s 4th all-time in points scored through his age-27 season, and is poised to pass Jordan a week from Tuesday and Kobe sometime in late February. (To pass LeBron, he’d need to average 63 points a game for the remaining 42 games.)
Cavaliers vs. Rockets (9:30pm ET Friday, ESPN)
The Cleveland Cavaliers lost a heartbreaker Thursday, falling 99-95 to the San Antonio Spurs. The Cavs opened the 4th quarter with a Kyrie Irving layup that put them ahead 75-72, only to have the Spurs score 13 unanswered points over the next 5 minutes. Kawhi Leonard scored 20 for San Antonio, and more importantly contained James, allowing him to put up “just” 22-7-5. The Cavs are now 27-10, good enough for a 3 ½ -game lead in the East.
The Rockets won their 5th in a row on Wednesday, squeaking past the Minnesota Timberwolves 107-104 as James Harden had a Jekyll-and-Hyde night, scoring 27 on 8-of-22 shooting and dropping 11 dimes to go along with an ugly 6 turnovers. Houston has to be the most up-and-down team in the league, having lost 3 in a row four times, and won 3 in a row 4 times – it must be exhausting to be a Rockets fan. Point guard Patrick Beverley missed the Rockets’ last game to tend to a personal issue and is questionable for tonight’s game.