New Orleans Pelicans' Austin Rivers (25), Alexis Ajinca, of France, Brian Roberts (22) and head coach Monty Williams watch as the Minnesota Timberwolves take their second technical foul free throws of the third quarter during an NBA basketball game on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, in Minneapolis. The Timberwolves won 124-112.
New Orleans coach Monty Williams had a difficult decision to make against Minnesota’s bruising front court of Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic.
He decided to use young star Anthony Davis on Love in an effort to neutralize the Timberwolves’ best player. That left power forward Ryan Anderson to match up against Pekovic, and the burly center ate the Pelicans up down low.
Pekovic had 22 points and seven rebounds and the Timberwolves led by as many as 30 points in cruising to a 124-112 victory over the Pelicans on Wednesday night.
"On nights like today when maybe they want to stop Kevin Love, we had another guy who is Pek," said Ricky Rubio, who had 14 points, nine assists, eight rebounds and three steals. "He is strong. If you don’t put a big body on him, he’s going to destroy him."
Pekovic got to the free throw line for 11 of Minnesota’s 35 attempts and Love had a quiet night by his lofty standards with 21 points and six rebounds. Minnesota shot 55.7 percent and forced a season-high 18 turnovers from the Pelicans.
Anderson had 25 points and Tyreke Evans added 16 points and seven boards for New Orleans. Eric Gordon returned from a three-game absence because of a bruised hip, but struggled with 12 points on 5-for-12 shooting.
"The reality is the game plan that I gave them was not appropriate for this group," Williams said. "We should have just kept it as simple as we had been and made our adjustments from there. I went to an adjustment right from the jump."
Kevin Martin scored 20 points and reserve J.J. Barea had 17 to help the Wolves (16-16) to a needed win over New Orleans (14-16) in the jockeying for position in the tough Western Conference. The Wolves are currently in ninth place, one spot out of the playoffs and the Pelicans are right behind them.
With Davis prowling the paint, the Pelicans lead the league in blocked shots and had a decided edge in athleticism over the Wolves. But Minnesota countered with their considerable muscle to dominate the first three quarters.
Pekovic signed a five-year, $60 million contract in the summer, but got off to an underwhelming start while trying to find his way in Minnesota’s new-look offense. He’s picked up steam of late, and entered the night averaging 23.5 points and 11.2 rebounds over his last six games.
"You’ve got to use your strengths, what your good at," Pekovic said. "That’s what I’m doing. That’s what I’m trying to use against athletic guys. I’m trying to use my strength. It worked tonight."
The matchup difficulties contributed to early foul trouble for the Pelicans.
Davis, Jrue Holiday and Alexis Ajinca picked up three fouls a piece in the first half, and Minnesota shot 24 free throws in the first two quarters to build a 14-point lead.
The Pelicans usually are very good at taking care of the ball, but they turned it over 16 times in the first half. It only got worse in the third quarter.
Minnesota used a 15-0 run early in the quarter to really open things up and Love’s only 3-pointer of the night gave them an 87-57 lead with under five minutes to play in the third.
Love was just 7 for 19 and 1 for 7 from long range. He had his lowest rebounding total of the season and failed to get a double-double for the first time since Dec. 15. But after calling out the reserves for scoring just five points in a loss to Dallas on Monday, Love saw his subs rack up 42 against New Orleans.
"It wasn’t me being down on them, it was me asking for more because we’re going to need them in 2014," Love said. "They’re going to have to really help us if we’re going to win. … It was just tough love. Sometimes that’s the best way to do things."
Davis had 13 points, six rebounds and four blocks, and Holiday scored 19 for New Orleans.
"It wasn’t so much Love and Pekovic," Davis said. "I think we did a good job on them and keeping them off the boards and playing down low. Their guards were getting in our paint and we wasn’t talking on defense and we can’t afford not to talk. It’s not us, it’s not what we do."
NOTES: New Orleans fell to 2-10 against the West. … Alexey Shved and Dante Cunningham each had 10 points for Minnesota. … The Pelicans fell to 12-4 when scoring 100 points. … New Orleans waived F Lou Amundson earlier on Wednesday.