After breaking the franchise record for wins in a season, the Cleveland Cavaliers don’t want to suffer a letdown with so much still at stake. A matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves almost guarantees that won’t happen.
LeBron James and the league-leading Cavaliers look to win their 11th straight Friday when they host the lowly Timberwolves.
Cleveland (58-13) set a franchise record for most victories in a season Wednesday with a 98-87 win over New Jersey. The Cavs are five games ahead of Orlando and Boston for the best record in the Eastern Conference, and improved to 33-1 at home.
“It seems like I’ve been saying the same speech a lot,” said James, who had 22 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds in the win. “We should all be proud as a franchise. … It’s unbelievable what we’ve been able to do, but we have to continue.”
With 11 games remaining - including one each with Orlando and Boston in April - the Cavaliers are in firm control of gaining the top seed in the East. Cleveland knows, however, that it will be targeted by other teams that have little to lose - like lowly Minnesota (20-52).
On Wednesday, the Cavaliers trailed 82-81 with less than four minutes left, but went on an 8-0 run to open up a cushion.
“One thing we are going to do is get team’s best games, best shots and teams are going to go on runs,” Mo Williams told the Cavaliers’ official Web site. “They made shots and made plays, but most importantly, we kept our composure and made plays and big shots.”
James is averaging 29.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and 9.7 assists during Cleveland’s winning streak. He scored 32 against the Timberwolves in Cleveland’s 93-70 win on Dec. 17, and has averaged 35.4 points in the last seven meetings with them.
Cleveland has won the last six of those games, limiting the Timberwolves to 82.4 points over that stretch. The Cavaliers are coming off another strong defensive performance Wednesday, holding an opponent under 90 points for the second straight game.
Keeping the Timberwolves in check again shouldn’t be a problem. Minnesota has lost six straight, including a 96-88 loss to Philadelphia on Wednesday, which dropped it to 4-25 since Jan. 28.
Rodney Carney led the Timberwolves with 21 points while Craig Smith added 20. Coach Kevin McHale had his usual five starters come off the bench with reserves Carney, Smith, Brian Cardinal, Kevin Ollie and Bobby Brown all starting. McHale mixed up the lineup as a reward for the way the bench nearly led the team back in a 97-90 loss to Oklahoma City on Sunday. They shot only 36 percent from the floor however, and had 15 turnovers in the loss to the 76ers.
“The guys on the bench have been playing hard and they played hard tonight,” McHale said. “I had to reward them for playing hard.”
The Timberwolves have lost eight straight on the road.
The 70 points Minnesota scored against the Cavaliers in December are its lowest total this season. Al Jefferson, out for the season with a knee injury, led the Timberwolves in the loss with 20 points and 11 rebounds in that game.