CLEVELAND – Taker and maker of two crucial shots within six days, young Timberwolves star Andrew Wiggins returned to Cleveland on Wednesday for the third time since the Cavaliers drafted him No. 1 overall in 2014 and traded him two months later for Kevin Love.
Three seasons on, he vows he never wonders what if …
“No, I don’t let myself go there,” he said Wednesday. “I’m happy where I’m at. It allowed me to grow the way I’ve grown. I’ve been put in a different position here, for the better.”
He has delivered some of his best games as a pro — he’s averaging 27.6 points on 56.0 percent shooting in five games against the Cavaliers — for the simplest of reasons.
“I play like it’s every other game, but I feel like it’s more,” said Wiggins, who scored 23 points on 9-for-17 shooting in Wednesday’s loss to the Cavaliers. “It gets me going a little more, just the fact that things happened, I guess. I think it fires every player when they face their former team. They want to do well.”
Wiggins is becoming the kind of player who can get his own shot with the game in doubt, the kind of player Wolves late coach and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders envisioned when he made Wiggins the centerpiece of the Love trade.
Wiggins hit the rise-up shot from the right corner that beat Phoenix at the buzzer last week, and on Monday he made one from the left side that forced overtime on the Wolves’ way to their seventh victory in 10 games.
It’s the kind of starring role that Wiggins, at age 21, said he never would have found had he stayed in Cleveland with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and others.
“Minnesota put the ball in my hands as soon as I got there,” he said, “and let me grow.”
The King’s praise
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue acknowledged Wiggins is motivated to play against the team that traded him and showed the “focus” his team would have defending him by having James on Wiggins to start the game.
“It’s all those guys,” James said, also referring to Karl-Anthony Towns and Zach LaVine. “They’re getting the opportunity to play right away. You look at all of them — three guys averaging 20 a game — and they’ve gotten the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from their mistakes, so they’re growing. They’ve got a bright future in those three talents.”
All out of Love
Love missed his second consecutive game because of back spasms and the Cavaliers have targeted Saturday night’s ABC game at New York for his return. Veteran forward Channing Frye started in his place.
The Wolves wore warmup shirts commemorating Black History Month in February, and James was presented the NAACP’s Jackie Robinson Sports Award for achievement in athletics, social justice, civil rights and community involvement before the game.
“It just goes back to what Jackie meant,” James said. “Not only playing the game he played, but using the platform he used, to stand up and be the man he was during difficult times, for a bigger cause for guys like myself to be free and do whatever I wanted to do in this profession.”