Tuesday's Minnesota-Cleveland matchup looks like a mismatch on paper with the Cavaliers as 14-point favorites on NBA odds at BetOnline and a total of 207.5.
Love Me, Love Me Not
Some people might forget that Love actually wasn't drafted by Minnesota in 2008. No, the former UCLA star went No. 5 overall that year to Memphis. Timberwolves general manager Kevin McHale chose Southern Cal guard O.J. Mayo at No. 3 in that draft. But after it was completed, McHale dealt the draft rights to Mayo, Marko Jaric, Antoine Walker and Greg Buckner to the Grizzlies in return for the draft rights to Kevin Love, Mike Miller, Brian Cardinal and Jason Collins. Mayo was a decent player in his first two seasons in the league but now doesn't play a ton with Milwaukee. Love, meanwhile, turned into a Top-10 player in the NBA and the best player in Timberwolves history other than Kevin Garnett.
Of course Love made it clear to Minnesota that he wasn't going to re-sign there as an unrestricted free agent next summer so the Wolves took bids on him. They appeared to prefer a deal with Golden State that would have netted Klay Thompson as the centerpiece, but the Warriors wouldn't give him up. So Love was sent to Cleveland in early August, a destination that wouldn't have been on Love's radar before LeBron James returned. Minnesota got 2013 No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett, 2014 No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins and a protected 2015 first-round pick for Love.
Love could still decide to sign somewhere else as a free agent. The Cavaliers weren't allowed to extend him yet, but it's presumed he will stay at LeBron's side barring something unforeseen. Love's numbers are well down from last year when he was the primary focus of the offense. He's No. 3 on Cleveland behind James and Kyrie Irving. Love is averaging 16.8 points and 10.5 rebounds. Love hasn't played all that great offensively the past two games, totaling just 14 points on 5-for-19 shooting.
Cleveland has won two straight since an embarrassing 127-98 home loss to Atlanta last Wednesday. The Cavs beat the Memphis Grizzlies 105-91 in a potential NBA Finals preview on Sunday. LeBron had 25 points and Dion Waiters 21 as Cleveland shot a season-high 60.5 percent and improved to just 3-6 against Western Conference teams. It certainly helped the Cavs that Memphis played without Zach Randolph. A Cavs-Grizzlies Finals matchup is +1300 at sportsbooks.
The Cavaliers are 10-16 against the NBA betting spread this season and 10-15-1 'over/under.'
Wolves Looking Toward Future
Minnesota knew it was going to struggle this season without Love and predictably has with a 5-21 mark that's the worst in the Western Conference. Minnesota has lost five straight and 11 of 12. The team really isn't that bad but three of its best players, guards Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin and center Nikola Pekovic, have missed weeks with various injuries and none will be back before the New Year.
So the Wolves have been playing their kids for the most part. Wiggins is the NBA Rookie of the Year favorite at sportsbooks following the season-ending injury to Milwaukee's Jabari Parker. Wiggins is averaging 12.0 points and 4.0 rebounds. He has no range on his shot yet but that should come. Bennett looks as if he will go down as a major bust, averaging only 6.2 points in 16.8 minutes a game. Teenager Zach LaVine, the team's first-round pick this year, has been solid at times and averages 9.0 points and 3.4 assists in 25.3 minutes. Shabazz Muhammad, a first-rounder last year, has really benefitted from the injuries and gotten more time. He's averaging 18.3 points this month and shooting .517 from the field. Muhammad looked like a potential bust last year but no more.
Minnesota already has traded one of its veterans, sending Corey Brewer to Houston in a deal that also included Sacramento. The Timberwolves got guard Troy Daniels, Sacramento's 2015 second-round pick, Houston's 2016 second-round pick and cash considerations from the Rockets. It was basically a salary dump.
The Timberwolves are a terrible defensive team, ranking 29th in giving up 108.4 points per game. Their opponents shoot a league-high .497 from the field. Minnesota's NBA odds are at 8-17-1 against the spread and 15-10-1 'over/under' at sportsbooks.
NBA Free Picks: Like the 'over' 207.5 more than the side for this NBA pick, but I'd probably take the points. LeBron could be a bit distracted thinking about the Christmas game and his return to Miami. The 'over' is 4-0 in Cleveland's past four after a double-digit win. The 'over' is 11-5-1 in Minnesota's past 17 after a loss.