Cavs take revved-up offense to Minnesota
MINNEAPOLIS -- With center Karl-Anthony Towns becoming more active on the defensive end, the Minnesota Timberwolves' defense is starting to complement their fifth-rated offense.
Isaiah Thomas' return has the Cleveland Cavaliers' offense at its best.
The two teams meet Monday in an important game for each.
The Timberwolves opened a five-game homestand on Saturday with a dominant 116-98 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. Minnesota hosts Cleveland, Oklahoma City, New York and Portland in the big stretch.
"It's getting better," Timberwolves forward Taj Gibson said of the defense after beating New Orleans. "The more we're locked in, the more sense of urgency we have. Our defense plays a big part in it.
"We understood we needed to get this win tonight, especially after a tough two games on the road. We had to bounce back on our part. We know we have another tough one coming up. The rest of the week is going to be tough."
The Cavaliers scored a season-high 131 points at Orlando on Saturday in a 131-127 victory. Cleveland recovered from a 102-88 loss at Boston during a five-game road trip that will also take it to Toronto and Indiana this week.
"I think by being out there it's unlocking another level, for sure," Thomas told Cleveland.com. "With me, I'm able to push the pace a little more, get the ball out of (LeBron James') hands and show the defense something different that they haven't seen all year.
"I think with me being out there it definitely gives us another level that we can reach. I know I'm on a minutes restriction now, but the whole time I'm out there, especially when I have the ball, my job is to put as much pressure on the defense as possible. I think I've done a pretty good job of that so far."
Thomas was making his first start in his second game back. Acquired from Boston along with forward Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and two draft picks in exchange for Kyrie Irving in the offseason, Thomas has played his first two games for the Cavaliers.
The point guard has scored 17 and 19 points in his first action after recovering from a hip injury. He has seven assists in 20 minutes per game.
"He's just being IT, getting the ball and he shoots, he scores," Cleveland guard Dwyane Wade told Cleveland.com. "That's Isaiah Thomas. We know he's on a minutes restriction, so we're trying as quick as possible to get him back into the game shape, trying to get him used to so many reps.
"There's going to be times where it's looks amazing, there's going to be times where you're going to see some rust. But we're trying to fast-track this thing for him. He's a scorer, man. He's gives our team a totally different dimension."
With Thomas in the lineup, the Cavaliers scored 127 points to beat the Trail Blazers. Thomas didn't play the next game and Cleveland scored a season-low 88 points.
The win in Orlando snapped a five-game road losing streak. The Cavaliers have won three of their past eight games.
With Thomas joining James, Wade and Kevin Love, offense shouldn't be an issue. Cleveland has the fourth-rated offense in the NBA this season, averaging 113.5 points per 100 possessions.
But the Cavaliers are 26th in defensive rating and Thomas isn't known as a defensive stopper.
Orlando's 127 points were the most Cleveland has allowed this season.
Six straight opponents have scored at least 100 points. The Magic scored 66 points in the paint and made 33 of 53 shots in the lane.
The Cavaliers give up 45.5 points per game in the paint this season, the 10th-highest total in the league.
Minnesota is seventh in the NBA in points in the paint with 47.4 per game. The Timberwolves scored 60 points in the paint against New Orleans.
"The offense was a lot better today," Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. "The defense, I think, has been moving in the right direction. I thought the willingness to move the ball and keeping it moving and making plays for each other was terrific."
The Timberwolves' defensive rating is 21st in the NBA this season, giving up 109.4 points per 100 possessions. But in the past 10 games, they are sixth in the league with a 103.6 defensive rating.
Minnesota has held its last five opponents below 100 points, the first time it has done so since Nov. 5-14, 2012.
Updated January 7, 2018