Wolves, Pelicans face off in battle of young bigs
NEW ORLEANS — Maybe it is time to break up the New Orleans Pelicans.
The surging Pelicans — who lost nine of their first 10 games to start the season — own four wins in the past five, raising their record to a more respectable 5-10 entering a Wednesday night game against the 4-9 Minnesota Timberwolves at the Smoothie King Center.
New Orleans' 112-94 victory over the 9-5 Hawks at Atlanta on Tuesday night was the Pelicans' most shocking victory during a three-game winning streak.
Anthony Davis, who entered as the NBA's leading scorer, played just 9 1/2 minutes before banging his right kneecap against a courtside chair while hustling to save a ball from going out of bounds in the first quarter.
The Pelicans led 26-14 when Davis limped to the locker room, but even with the All-Star forward getting treatment, New Orleans extended its lead to a season-high 35 points early in the third quarter with a 13-0 run.
Davis returned for the start of the fourth quarter and finished with 13 points and three blocks in 18 minutes, so it is fairly certain he will play Wednesday night.
“He came back out and said that he could go, so we stuck him in the game for a few minutes,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said Tuesday night. “We wanted to see if he would OK for tomorrow. We're playing one of the truly gifted players in the league (Karl-Anthony Towns) tomorrow.”
The Wolves are coming off a disappointing 99-93 home loss to the Boston Celtics on Monday night. Minnesota led by 13 points entering the fourth quarter but lost despite 29 points, 18 rebounds, three assists and two blocks by Towns.
“Laid a damn egg,” Wolves guard Zach LaVine said.
Minnesota was outscored 31-12 in the fourth quarter by the Celtics, including a 17-0 Boston run to start the period. The Wolves did not score their first field goal in the quarter until nearly seven minutes in.
“It just shows you can never let your guard down,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. “You have to strive to be a 48-minute team. We're not doing that right now. We have to get back in, work, concentrate.
“We have to improve. We didn't close out. For three quarters, I thought our defense was pretty good. They were shooting a low percentage, the (3-point) line was covered. Rebounding was good. But it doesn't take much for a team to get on track. Once they got a couple, they started getting good looks, and we started scrambling.”
Towns is adding to his game by facing up more frequently for jumpers, extending his range beyond the 3-point arc.
Heading into his matchup with Davis, the other one of the two best young big men in the NBA, Towns is averaging 22.2 points (an increase of four points from last season), 9.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.3 blocks per game. He is shooting 51.4 percent overall and a 43.1 percent from long range.
In dispatching the Hawks on Tuesday night, the Pelicans shot 52 percent from the floor, including 44 percent from long range. Point guard Tim Frazier scored a career-high 21 points and dished out 14 assists.
“We just came out and played hard right from the jump,” Frazier said. “We made them take tough shots. We shot the ball. All credit to my teammates — they were able to knock down shots. But we got another one tomorrow. We have to carry the same energy we had today.”
The Pelicans are 3-0 with point guard Jrue Holiday back in the lineup. After missing the first 12 games to be with his wife, who is recovering from a brain tumor, and newborn daughter, Holiday is averaging 19.3 points and 6.7 assists.