CLEVELAND — In their first meeting since headlining one of the NBA’s most talked-about offseason trades, Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins outshined Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love on Tuesday, scoring 27 points, dunking on Love, swatting Tristan Thompson and drawing a foul as he tried to go through LeBron James in transition.
But, as has been true too often during the Timberwolves’ injury-plagued season, the rookie forward was seriously outmanned.
Cleveland pulled away late in the third quarter to win 125-104, the fourth victory on a five-game homestand for the Cavaliers before their Christmas showdown in Miami.
“Got stops,” James said of the 16-1 run that sealed it. “More physical. We just physical enough (early). We weren’t playing point of attack, we allowed them to get to their spots way too comfortable.”
That was a problem for Minnesota for the entire night. Guard Kyrie Irving scored 17 of his 29 points in the second half for Cleveland, and James had 24 points, four rebounds and three assists.
Cleveland suffered a couple of serious scares in the third quarter.
First, Love injured his right thumb as he banged it against former teammate Gorgui Dieng under the basket. The power forward eventually returned, finishing with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
But, by the time Love was back, center Anderson Varejao was in the locker room, having been carried off by teammates James Jones and Brendan Haywood after injuring his right ankle.
The Cavaliers reported that Varejao, who has missed 166 games over the previous four seasons but had started all but one game this season, will be evaluated Wednesday. He left the arena on crutches, and in a walking boot.
Irving, the No. 1 overall pick by Cleveland in 2011, made 12 of 19 shots from the field. James, the No. 1 overall pick in 2003, made half of his 16 shots, playing patiently for most of the contest. So they both did their part.
On the other side?
Wiggins, the No. 1 overall pick in 2014, converted 9 of 16 tries, in a game he called more emotional than others, after he never got to suit up in anything other than summer league action for the team that drafted him.
“I think it’s obvious this is a motivational game for me,” Wiggins said.
He earned high praise from Irving and James, with Irving declaring that Wiggins “is going to be one of the greatest guys in our league pretty soon,” and James calling him “a great talent.”
But forward Anthony Bennett — taken first overall by Cleveland in 2013 and later included in the Love deal — missed all four of his shots, in just 12 minutes.
Dieng, a center, had 20 points and 11 rebounds, and forward Shabazz Muhammad had 18 points and six rebounds for Minnesota.
But the Timberwolves still lost their sixth straight.
“The score is probably not indicative of how well we actually played,” Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders said. “We went to our bench and got too many empty minutes.”
Even on a night when their prized rookie gave them 37 strong ones.
NOTES: David Blatt, who has more than 30 years of international experience, including a stint as coach of the Russian national team, spoke highly of Canada’s prospects in future years if Cavaliers C/F Tristan Thompson and Timberwolves F Anthony Bennett and F Andrew Wiggins (each of whom he coached in Cavaliers summer league) can all play together. “They have a chance to be a top, top rate international team,” Blatt said. … Minnesota coach Flip Saunders, who said this week that F Kevin Love could get a frosty reception when the Cavaliers visit on Minnesota, had a friendly conversation with Love between the teams’ shootarounds Tuesday, but declined to comment on him during the pre-game media session. … Without Corey Brewer (traded), Ricky Rubio (ankle injury), Nikola Pekovic (ankle injury) and Kevin Martin (wrist injury), Tuesday’s active Minnesota players started just 28 games in Love’s last season with the team. … Cleveland F LeBron James’ oldest son, fourth-grader LeBron Jr., has become a hoops sensation, after a highlight video circulated on the Internet. “As far as what he’s doing (on the court), I don’t want to get involved in that stuff right now,” James said. “He’s too young.”
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