Smith, Love lead Cavs to 6th straight win over Wolves

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Kevin Love was back in Minnesota again, and this time the boos he heard were half-hearted and faint from the Target Center crowd.

Timberwolves fans have moved on, enamored with the player they got in return. And Love is settled in with the Cleveland Cavaliers, happy that he doesn’t have to carry the load all by himself anymore.

J.R. Smith scored a season-high 27 points and Love had 20 points, nine rebounds and four assists to help the Cavaliers to their sixth straight win, 125-99 over the Timberwolves on Friday night.

LeBron James added 13 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists, Iman Shumpert had 23 points and the Cavaliers outscored the Timberwolves 22-5 in transition to win for the 12th time in 14 games. Smith made 5 of 6 3-pointers in just 19 minutes and Cleveland was 13 of 27 from long range to top 120 points for the third straight game.

“It is nice. A lot of different guys can carry the load on this team,” Love said. “It’s not just one or two guys and that makes for a pretty formidable group.”

Andrew Wiggins scored 35 points, Shabazz Muhammad had 22 and Karl-Anthony Towns added 22 for the Timberwolves, who have lost five in a row and nine of their last 10.

“J.R. can go 7 for 9 or he can go 1 for 9, it depends on the night,” Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell said. “You’ve got to pick your poison.”

Love spent his first six seasons in Minnesota before he was traded last summer in a package that brought Wiggins to the Wolves. Love’s pouty demeanor over the last half of his final season here didn’t endear him to the fans who once adored him, and they booed him lustily in his return to Target Center last year.

They booed again on Friday, but it seemed like they were doing it more out of obligation rather than genuine distaste.

“This will be a place that will always be one of my homes and a place I hope I’ll always be able to come back to,” Love said.

Love only made 4 of 11 shots, but unlike the undermanned Wolves teams he played for, the Cavaliers don’t need him to carry the scoring load – especially when Smith is shooting the lights out like he has been recently. He scored 49 points and hit 13 3s over his previous two games and kept raining them from deep against the Wolves.

Wiggins averaged 30 points in his two games against the Cavaliers last year and came out firing again on Friday night. But Smith matched him shot for shot, consistently drilling 3s over Wiggins’ outstretched hand. Twenty-one of Smith’s points came in the first half, the same output for Wiggins and Minnesota did not have near the scoring depth to keep pace with Love, James and the rest of the Cavs.

The Wolves led 17-13 early after a flurry from Wiggins, but Cleveland outscored the Wolves 22-10 to finish the first quarter and never looked back.

Kyrie Irving had 13 points in 26 minutes in his eighth game back from a knee injury he suffered in the NBA Finals and the spacing he has created has made all the difference for Smith.

“At the end of the day when I catch the ball, nobody’s coming to help,” Smith said. “Nobody’s coming. It’s just me and my man on an island, so I can pretty much do what I want. But nine times out of 10 the catch and shoot is already open and that’s when I’m at my best.”

YOUNG GUNS

Wiggins and Towns – the last two No. 1 overall draft picks and both just 20 years old – topped 20 points in the same game for the fifth time this season. Only Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (12) in 2008-09 and Minnesota’s Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury (7) in 1996-97 stand as duos 21 years old or younger that have done it more times in a season.

NO MO

Cavaliers point guard Mo Williams again did not play. His minutes have been drastically reduced since Irving returned from his knee injury, in part because of Irving’s quick return to form and in part because of an injured right thumb.

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: Cleveland scored 35 points in the first quarter, its highest-scoring opening period of the season. … Smith moved past Eddie Jones for 20th place on the NBA’s career 3-pointers made list. … The Cavs turned 13 turnovers into 24 points.

Timberwolves: Steve Kaplan, the minority owner of the Memphis Grizzlies who is working with Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor on a succession plan to eventually take over the franchise in a few years, sat next to Taylor and his wife, Becky, courtside.

UP NEXT

Cavaliers: Visit Philadelphia on Sunday.

Timberwolves: Host Dallas on Sunday.

Scoot Henderson says he has skills to be No.1 pick but not hung up on it

Metropolitans 92 v G League Ignite
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Scoot Henderson came out like a man on a mission Tuesday night against the Metropolitans 92 and Victor Wembanyama — he was in attack mode. He used his explosive athleticism to get to the rim, his impressive body control to get off good shots, and his strength to finish with authority. And if the defender played back, he would drain the jumper over him.

A year ago, Jaylen Brown called him the best 17-year-old he’d ever seen. Scoot is better than that now.

Many years, Henderson would be a clear No.1 overall pick. But, not this year, Wembanyama has that crown because he breaks the mold with his size and skill set (in the NBA, height still wins out).

Kevin O’Conner of The Ringer asked Henderson why he should be the top prospect and got a confident answer.

There will be a lot of people making the Henderson case this season — and with good reason. He could be a franchise cornerstone player for the next decade.

Henderson, however, is trying not to get hung up on No.1 vs. No.2.

There’s a long list of legendary players selected No.2: Bill Russell, Kevin Durant, Jerry West, Jason Kidd, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Henderson can be one of them.

Unless Wembanyama’s medicals come back with red flags, he is destined to be the No.1 pick next June. That, however, will not be the end of Henderson’s story. Instead, it will be just the beginning.

Doc Rivers says he wants Harden to be ‘a scoring Magic Johnson’

Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
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We’re not in Houston anymore.

James Harden in Philadelphia will not be chasing scoring titles and dominating the game in quite the same way. Instead, he’s been asked to be more of a facilitator — but not too much of one. Doc Rivers told the team at ESPN’s NBA Today he wants scoring to go with the facilitating. Just like one of the all-time greats.

“I think we’ve talked so much about him being a facilitator… I need him to be James Harden too. If I had to combine, I would say a scoring Magic Johnson, I don’t know, but that’s what I want him to be. I want him to be a James Harden, but in that, I want him to also be the facilitator of this basketball team too. So in a lot of ways, his role is growing bigger for our team, and I just want him to keep thinking, ‘Do both.'”

Just play like Magic, no pressure there. For his career, Magic averaged 19.5 points a game (with four over 20 PPG) with 11.2 assists.

Harden can get close enough to Rivers’ lofty goals to make Philly a real threat, so long as defenders still fear his first step and step back. Harden can get his shot and get to the line, and he’s long been a great passer who has averaged 10.5 assists a game over the past two seasons. Now it’s just a matter of finding the balance of when to set up Joel Embiid, when to turn the offense over to Tyrese Maxey, and when to get his own shot.

Philadelphia is a deep team poised to win a lot of regular season games — the Sixers being the top seed in the East is absolutely in play. The questions Harden — and, to a degree, Embiid — have to answer come in May, when the second round of the playoffs start and Harden has faded while Embiid has had poor injury luck. In a deep East with Milwaukee, Boston, and maybe Miami and Brooklyn in the contender mix, there is no margin for error.

A Magic-like Harden would be a big boost for the Sixers in that setting.

As he chases record, LeBron says he has ‘no relationship’ with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Sacramento Kings v Los Angeles Lakers
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Later this season, health permitting, LeBron James will pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

Kareem has said LeBron has earned it, but also has called out LeBron on COVID issues (something Abdul-Jabbar apologized for). Have the two legends started to build a relationship as LeBron marches toward the record? Not so much.

“No thoughts, no relationship.”

This question was asked of LeBron days after Abdul-Jabbar slammed former LeBron teammate Kyrie Irving in a Substack newsletter, calling him a “comical buffoon” and saying he is a poor role model. Abdul-Jabbar has been a vocal proponent of getting the vaccine, Irving remains unvaccinated, and LeBron has posted on social media questioning the severity of the virus and the response. Plus, LeBron and Irving are friends, which could have sparked LeBron’s terse response (as could the fact he was ready to get out of the arena after a dull preseason game).

A week earlier at media day, LeBron had been kinder when discussing Abdul-Jabbar and chasing his record.

“And you know, obviously Kareem has had his differences, with some of my views and some of the things that I do. But listen, at the end of the day, to be able to be right in the same breath as a guy to wear the same [Lakers] uniform, a guy that was a staple of this franchise along with Magic and Big Game [James Worthy] over there for so many years, especially in the 80s, and a guy that does a lot off the floor as well,” LeBron said. “I think it’s just super duper dope for myself to be even in that conversation.”

Abdul-Jabbar has been more of a public persona in recent years, both around the game of basketball and discussing social justice issues through his writings. The NBA named its new social justice award after him. With that has come new relationships around the league.

One of those is not with LeBron. Will Abdul-Jabbar be in the building when LeBron does break the record?

We’ve got months for this relationship to evolve — if it does — before that big day.

 

Watch Zion Williamson score 13 in return to court for Pelicans

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Zion Williamson is back.

He certainly looked in better shape and flashed his insane explosiveness on his way to 13 points and four rebounds in 15 minutes Tuesday night against the Bulls, his first game after missing all of last season following foot surgery.

There was some rust, and the Pelicans are wisely bringing him along slowly and not breaking out the entire playbook for a preseason game, but in the moments we saw Zion looked like he was all the way back.

The questions now are can he sustain it, and how to the Pelicans mesh him with other scoring options in CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram.

And maybe we shouldn’t leave rookie Dyson Daniels off that list, he looked good in his first NBA preseason game.

The Pelicans are one of the most intriguing teams this season, a team that made the playoffs last season with a push after McCollum arrived, and now they add the elite interior scoring and athleticism of Zion to Ingram’s outside shot and slashing, not to mention and a solid core of role players. This team has top six potential if it can get stops. But in a deep West, nothing will be easy.