Overrun by an opponent that's big even when it goes small, the Timberwolves lost 125-99 Friday night at Target Center to a Cleveland team that is on the spectrum's very opposite end from where the Wolves play these days.
While the Eastern Conference-leading Cavaliers won for the 12th time in 14 games, the Wolves lost their fifth consecutive game and for the ninth time in 10 games.
"They're on a roll, they're playing good, they're making shots," Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio said of a Cavaliers team that won its sixth consecutive game. "We're on the other end: We're not making shots and we're not playing good. It's a big loss for us, losing five in a row now. I was talking to some teammates and we can't have more than five in a row if we want to do something.
"We have to learn how to win. Even games that you don't feel it, we've got to learn how to do it. Tonight was tough, playing against one of the best teams in the league. We've got to bring it every night."
The Wolves have won only once since beating Brooklyn five days before Christmas. They lost convincingly Friday even though young star Andrew Wiggins again set a career scoring high with 35 points against the team that drafted him first overall two summers ago and traded him essentially for three-time All-Star Kevin Love before Wiggins ever played a game for the Cavs.
Wiggins surpassed Cleveland's J.R. Smith's 27 points in a matchup at shooting guard, but it still wasn't nearly enough against a team that starts All-Stars LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Love but beat the Wolves on Friday with the three-point shooting of reserves Smith and Iman Shumpert.
Smith made 10 of 12 field-goal attempts, including five of six from three-point range before halftime. Shumpert made three more threes, and the Cavaliers outscored the Wolves 39-21 from outside the arc.
"J.R. is the type of guy, he can go 7-for-9 or he can go 1-for-9," Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell said. "It depends on the night."
Mitchell contended Wiggins contested most of those shots, but it was just one of those 7-for-9 — or actually 10-for-12 — nights, but Wiggins disagreed.
"That was my fault," Wiggins said. "I need to close out to the touch, get into him, run him off the line."
James called Smith a "rhythm" player who definitely found his Friday. Meanwhile, James approached a triple-double with 13 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists, and Love had 20 points and nine rebounds in his second game back at Target Center since the trade.
Love's first game back at his old arena came last Jan. 31, a 106-90 Cavaliers victory. In that game, Wiggins reached his previous career scoring high of 33 points. Wiggins scored 27 the other time the Wolves played Cleveland last season, and he topped both games Friday with his 35-point night on 12-for-19 shooting.
"Seems to be pretty typical against us," Cleveland coach David Blatt said.
Wiggins scored 21 points by halftime.
"It was one of the biggest trades last year, so it's always going to be something," Wiggins said. "Whether the fans want to tone it up or the media wants to tone it up, it's motivation for the players, too. I was just playing my game. I hit my first shots and got going early."
When asked if he seems to find a different level of play when he faces the team that traded him, Wiggins said: "I wouldn't say a different level. I just have good games."