CLEVELAND (AP) — The calendar turned and the Cleveland Cavaliers looked like the defending NBA champions again.
LeBron James scored 27 points, Kyrie Irving had 14 and a career-high 14 assists and Cleveland, coming off a losing record in January, defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 125-97 on Wednesday night.
Cleveland, which went 7-8 last month, began February with a dominating performance in the second half. The Cavaliers recorded a season-high 37 assists and displayed ball movement that was missing for most of January.
“It’s just one game,” James said. “We’ve got to continue to do it. We’re not going to have 37 assists every game.”
Added coach Tyronn Lue: “It becomes contagious when you’re moving the basketball. When we’re doing that with the shooters we have we’re pretty dangerous.”
The Cavaliers held a three-point halftime lead and took control midway through the third quarter. James’ three-point play, which started with a reverse scoop layup, gave the Cavaliers a 90-70 lead.
Cleveland All-Star forward Kevin Love missed his second straight game because of back spasms, but the Cavaliers had five players in double figures in scoring.
James was 11 of 14 from the field. Kyle Korver, who has struggled since being acquired from Atlanta last month, scored 20 points, going 8 of 11 from the field and hitting four 3-pointers.
Korver gave most of the credit to James, who had 12 assists, for his highest-scoring night with Cleveland.
“He’s an incredible passer and he sees the court so well,” Korver said. “I feel like I’ve missed a bunch of those shots.”
Tristan Thompson had 18 points and 14 rebounds.
Karl-Anthony Towns led Minnesota with 26 points and Andrew Wiggins added 23 for the Timberwolves, who won five of six to finish January.
Cleveland went on a 27-10 run to begin the third quarter, forcing Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau to call timeout twice in the first six minutes. The Cavaliers’ momentum couldn’t be stopped and the lead reached 29 points in the final period.
Thibodeau doesn’t believe Cleveland’s problems last month should be any cause for concern.
“After you win it all, the challenge is everyone around the league is ready for you,” he said. “LeBron has been through this before, and they still have a great team.”
The loss was Minnesota’s most lopsided of the season. The Timberwolves were defeated 117-90 by Detroit on Dec. 9.
“We didn’t play well,” Towns said. “We let them play to their strengths, not to their weaknesses. You can’t give the defending champs a jump like that, especially in their home.”
Timberwolves: Minnesota is 13-12 following a 6-18 start. … Thibodeau said the team is in no hurry to add a player even though Minnesota has had an open roster spot since Jan. 7 when it waived G John Lucas III. “If something makes sense, we’ll look at it,” he said.
Cavaliers: Lue hopes Love, who took part in shooting drills Wednesday, will return Saturday when the Cavaliers play in New York. … Lue will have his jersey retired at Nebraska, where he played from 1995-98, on Thursday during the Cornhuskers’ game against Michigan State. … Cleveland selected Wiggins with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft, but packaged him in a trade to Minnesota for Love. … The Cavaliers had workouts for several veteran free agents at their training facility Wednesday, including Kirk Hinrich, Mario Chalmers, Lance Stephenson and Jordan Farmar.
James was given the NAACP Jackie Robinson Sports Award before the game. The award is presented for high achievement in athletics and contributions in the pursuit of social justice, civil rights and community involvement.
“It just puts a lot of things in perspective,” James said. “So appreciative that they would even want me to be a recipient of the award.”
Timberwolves: Visit Detroit on Friday. The Pistons snapped their 10-game losing streak against Minnesota on Nov. 20.
Cavaliers: Visit New York on Saturday. Cleveland has won its last six games at Madison Square Garden.