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Cavs Restore Order to the Universe by Blowing Out the Timberwolves

The Cavs have been mired in a losing streak and everyone's nervous. Wednesday night showed why they shouldn't be.

by Robert O'Connell
Feb 2 2017, 3:25pm

Midway through the third quarter of the Cleveland Cavaliers' game against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night, LeBron James drove from the left wing. Shabazz Muhammad tried to wrap him up to prevent the bucket, but James muscled through, floated under the rim, and tossed in a blind scoop shot back over his head. The three-point play put the Cavs, who had held a slim lead throughout the first half, up 18. It also served as the centerpiece of a stretch of nearly flawless basketball, a reminder that, midseason bickering notwithstanding, things remain fine for the defending champs.

If you would like to chuckle and shake your head in appreciation for a little while, go to the five-minute mark of this video. There, you'll see a purportedly in-crisis team—one that really needs another point guard and maybe another center, one threatened by a simmering feud between star player and owner, one that had lost four of its last six games coming into Wednesday to fall all the way to, uh, first in the Eastern Conference—put together an impromptu symphony. Kyrie Irving slips a deft pocket pass to James out of the pick-and-roll, and James drops the hammer. Irving bends a little one-handed bouncer around two Wolves defenders, and Tristan Thompson finishes with two hands. James comes off a screen and draws pretty much the entire Minnesota defense, then zings a no-look pass to Channing Frye, who makes one of his three triples. James gathers a rebound and fires a full-court outlet to Irving for the layup. The Cavs grow a six-point lead to 20 in a matter of minutes; they also make your eyes fall out of your head.

The stats from the game imply a banding-together. Irving had a career-high 14 assists, James chipped in 12 more, and the team totaled 37. Only James and Kyle Korver scored 20, but five players reached double-digits. Thompson and Frye formed a complementary front-line duo, each going for 18. Tyronn Lue said what coaches say when things go this swimmingly: "It becomes contagious when you're moving the basketball."

Caveats abound. The Wolves are talented but crummy, and the Cavs have the generation's best player and a Finals hero at their disposal. A blowout was to be expected. That's exactly the point, though. The past couple weeks of infighting—reminiscent of last regular season's championship-preceding subtweet jamboree—have been the exception. This is the rule.

Cleveland is set to host some backup point-guard workouts, bringing in the likes of Kirk Hinrich and Mario Chalmers for test runs. That will make for nice fodder, but it really won't matter. The Cavs' competition in the East includes the Celtics, led by a very good 5'9" player; the Raptors, who exist to lose playoff series in six; and the Wizards, who are the Wizards. Barring catastrophe, Cleveland will be where they want to be in June. Between now and then, they'll play a lot of pretty basketball.