CLEVELAND – The defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers played on without injured Kevin Love, J.R. Smith and Chris Andersen in Wednesday’s 125-97 victory at Quicken Loans Arena, the Timberwolves’ most lopsided loss of the season by a single point.
Before they did so, Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau was reminded that the Cavs still had a couple guys named LeBron James and Kyrie Irving and answered, “That’s pretty good.”
Then he clicked off such names as Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert and Richard Jefferson as well, without even mentioning the shooting provided by Kyle Korver and Channing Frye.
All of them helped thump the Wolves, who lost to Detroit by 27 points at home in December.
Leading 10-2 after fewer than three minutes and down 63-60 at halftime, the Wolves surrendered 16 of the second half’s first 20 points and never caught up. Irving had eight of his 14 assists in the first quarter alone, Thompson had eight of his 14 rebounds on the offensive end, and James delivered a typical 27-point, 12-assist, eight-rebound performance while seemingly playing every position but center.
“I was more than ready, if he was going to go to the ‘5’ the rest of the game, I was going to guard him,” Wolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns said.
Towns never got the chance because by then the Cavaliers were well on their way toward transforming that early eight-point deficit into a lead that swelled to 29 points near game’s end.
“It never felt that big to me,” Towns said. “Sometimes you get lost in the game and don’t realize the score’s not your way.”
Cleveland outscored the Wolves 30-19 in the third quarter and 62-37 in the second half. Thibodeau attributed that to his team forcing long shots immediately after halftime rather than playing inside-out through Towns as they had in the first half.
“I thought the first half we played well enough where we’d have a chance to win,” Thibodeau said.
“But I also knew in the third quarter they’d come out and bring it. And then we didn’t respond.”
The Wolves had won two in a row, five of six and eight of 11. Cleveland had lost seven of its past 11, including Monday at Dallas.
The Wolves hadn’t lost by more than a dozen points since that Dec. 9 loss to the Pistons.
“You try not to have them ever,” Towns said about lopsided losses, “but we just didn’t play well tonight.”
The Cavaliers won convincingly after a turbulent week in which James called for his team to add another playmaker and questioned whether management had become complacent while the Cavs chase Golden State for another title.
His public posture led to a war of words with TNT analyst Charles Barkley, who called James, among other things, “whiny.” James in turn responded with a laundry list of Barkley’s missteps throughout his life that Barkley gave James credit for Googling.
Before they at least temporarily corrected course by whipping the Wolves, the Cavaliers brought free agents Mario Chalmers, Kirk Hinrich, Jordan Farmar and Lance Stephenson — yes, that Lance Stephenson who tried to agitate James by blowing in his ear during a playoff game once upon a time — in for workouts Wednesday afternoon.
James said before Wednesday’s game he was “supportive of what the franchise wants to do,” which he defined as “get our guys playing championship basketball.”
They did deliver something close to that Wednesday, if only for a night.
“I just want to win,” he said. “That’s all that matters to me. I don’t have no personal problems with nobody.”