When the Timberwolves last faced the Cavaliers, Target Center was in a state of delirium.
LeBron James and the defending Eastern Conference champions were run out of the building almost as fast as they entered in one of the most complete performances the Wolves had this season, a 127-99 victory on Jan. 8.
That night, however, was not just a blip on the radar for the Cavaliers, who are going through a miserable season in what could be James’ second farewell tour in Cleveland. There have been reports of locker-room discord, frustrations with coach Tyronn Lue and front-office drama between James and the rest of the organization as the feeling around the NBA grows stronger that he will leave his hometown team again after the season.
A Cavaliers 120-88 home drubbing at the hands of the Rockets was followed by a 116-98 loss Tuesday at Orlando (17-36), and the former left James saying the Cavaliers deserved to be taken off national TV.
Into this maelstrom come the Wolves, a more harmonious bunch who return to the road after winning their 12th consecutive game at home.
“They have LeBron,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “And they still have one of the best home records [19-7] in the NBA.”
Meanwhile, the Wolves have a horrid road record of late. They are 1-6 in their past seven games on the road, with the lone win coming 126-118 against the Clippers on Jan. 22.
The defense has been the main culprit. The Wolves have a defensive rating of 117.2 in those losses, meaning they are allowing that many points per 100 possessions, which is the average length of an NBA game. By comparison, the team with the worst-rated defense in the league, the Suns, has a defensive rating of 109.9 in all games.
It’s not a run that has sat well with the defensive-minded Thibodeau.
“Some things we’re doing well but there’s still a lot of room for improvement,” he said.
When asked to elaborate what could be better Thibodeau replied, “Every area. All over.”
Perhaps the extended rest the Wolves had of late will help. Thibodeau gave his team two days off after Saturday’s victory over the Pelicans, which gave them a reprieve Monday from Karl-Anthony Towns’ gloating over the Eagles’ Super Bowl victory. Towns, an Eagles fan from New Jersey, was sporting a wide grin and a jersey after practice.
“It’s a good time to be an Eagles fan …” Towns said. “I needed [the rest] after the Eagles won. It was good to be with my family and have quality time with them. I haven’t had that in a while.”
Towns also said the Wolves can’t underestimate the Cavaliers based on recent history and used a boxing analogy to say the Wolves can’t be in a hurry to bury the Cavs given their recent turmoil, but they can’t be too lackadaisical either.
“We’re going to take what the game gives us. We’re not going to try to be out there Mike Tyson. We’re obviously not going to be out there trying to be Floyd Mayweather either. We’re just going to take what the game gives us and try to go with the flow and stick to our game plan.”
At the top of that plan is improving the defense, which can’t get much worse on the road than it has been of late.
“Those little small details. I think the small details make a big difference,” guard Jamal Crawford said. “It’s easy to see the bigger plays and bigger moments but the small details lead up to that.”
They also lead up to wins or losses.