After a horrendous start to the season, the Minnesota Timberwolves are starting to show signs of overcoming their fourth-quarter jinx.
Their latest victory may have been their most complete performance of the season, and it came at the expense of a New Orleans Hornets team that is tumbling back to earth after an 11-1 start.
Michael Beasley had 30 points, nine rebounds and a career-high seven assists to lead the Timberwolves to a 113-98 over the Hornets on Monday night.
Wes Johnson added a career-high 24 points and made six 3-pointers for the Timberwolves, who have won back-to-back games for just the second time this season.
”That’s the type of team game overall, offensively and defensively, that we’re really pushing our guys to get to,” coach Kurt Rambis said.
Chris Paul had 22 points and 13 assists for the Hornets, who lost their seventh straight road game and are 7-12 since their terrific start.
David West added 23 points, but New Orleans allowed the Timberwolves to shoot 53 percent from the field and 11 for 23 from 3-point range while losing to a team that entered with just seven victories on the season.
”I think this one we’re going to be mad at for a long time,” Paul said. ”Of course, you’ve got to get over it, but at the same time, we should have beat this team. Bad, bad, bad loss for us. I don’t know, they just beat us.”
The Timberwolves trailed by three at halftime but Johnson hit four 3-pointers in the third quarter, including three in a row, to help Minnesota build an 11-point lead.
The Timberwolves, the youngest team in the league, have had a heck of a time closing out games so far this season, blowing double-digit leads almost on a nightly basis. The Wolves have blown seven leads of at least 10 points this season, most recently a 15-point third-quarter lead against Utah last week.
Beasley’s 3-pointer gave them a 92-80 lead that held with just over 7 minutes remaining. Instead of tightening up, forcing bad shots and committing turnovers, the Wolves played with discipline and patience down the stretch.
Jonny Flynn hit a 3-pointer, Kevin Love converted a three-point play and Beasley added one more from long distance to put the game away. Love overcame a slow start to finish with 16 points and 11 rebounds, helping the Wolves beat a team with a winning record for the first time all season.
”We played well in the fourth quarter, too,” Love said. ”That’s been our Achilles’ heel all season. We finally got a win over a team with an above .500 record.”
After a big first quarter, the Hornets had no answer for the quicker, sharper Timberwolves.
The Hornets shot 60 percent in the first quarter, using a 10-0 run en route to a 35-point first quarter.
The Timberwolves are one of the worst defensive teams in the league, giving up more assists than any other team. Paul feasted on them early and often, finding open cutters for dunks and wingmen for open jumpers, a problem that has plagued the Wolves all year long.
West had 11 points in the first period and New Orleans was pounding the best rebounding team in the NBA on the boards until Kurt Rambis inserted Nikola Pekovic, a bruising center who injected the Wolves with some much-needed toughness on the inside.
Throwing his 290-pound frame around, Pekovic helped jumpstart a 12-2 run that got Minnesota back in the game.
”I don’t think we’re going from start to finish,” said West, whose Hornets have dropped three straight road games to teams with a losing record. ”We have spurts and stretches where we’re solid defensively. In terms of completion, we aren’t going from start to finish.”
The Wolves held the Hornets to 63 points over the final three quarters, playing the kind of tenacious help defense that hasn’t been present all season.
”When you show you can shut down a team that’s in the playoff chase, that gets you excited,” Timberwolves swingman Martell Webster said.
Notes: Pekovic returned from a four-game absence with a sprained left ankle. … Minnesota G Luke Ridnour got a demonstration technical foul in the first quarter after being whistled for an over-and-back violation. He gave a dismissive wave to referee Kane Fitzgerald, who called him for the technical. He finished with 12 points and 11 assists. … Marco Belinelli scored 11 points but was torched by Johnson in the third quarter when Monty Williams shifted Trevor Ariza to guard Beasley.