Preview: Timberwolves vs. Pelicans
Although they were supposed to take another step forward, the injury-ravaged New Orleans Pelicans are mercifully closing out a highly disappointing season.
Expectations weren't nearly as high for the Minnesota Timberwolves, but the emergence of their young talent has them feeling good about the future.
As Karl-Anthony Towns looks to put an emphatic stamp on his bid for the Rookie of the Year award, the Timberwolves try to finish with a fourth victory in five games when they host the severely short-handed Pelicans on Wednesday night.
With a potential MVP candidate in Anthony Davis, a solid roster around him and Alvin Gentry taking over as coach after helping Golden State win the NBA title as associate coach, the Pelicans were expected by many prognosticators to return to the playoffs after last season's first-round exit.
Instead, they dropped 11 of their first 12 games and never recovered while dealing with a ton of adversity. Davis had a 59-point, 20-rebound performance at Detroit in February but has missed 20 games and is out at least three months following knee surgery.
New Orleans (30-51) is also playing without valuable contributors Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, Quincy Pondexter, Alonzo Gee and Norris Cole. The club had eight players available in Monday's 121-116 home loss to Chicago.
James Ennis scored a career-high 29 points while Toney Douglas had 21 and Tim Frazier added 21 with 11 assists and six rebounds. Douglas has averaged 20.8 points while going 9 of 22 from 3-point range over his last four.
General manager Dell Demps refuted a report last month that alluded to friction between he and Gentry and that he had been second-guessing the firing of former coach Monty Williams. Gentry has said recently that he expects to be back next season.
"Every guy that is injured, or rehabbing and (is) trying to get himself back healthy, the one thing they've got to do is come back and compete at the same level as these guys did. If we do, we'll be fine," Gentry said after Monday's game.
The Wolves finished near the bottom of the Western Conference, but they showed glimpses of a promising future by beating Golden State and playoff-bound Portland during a season-high three-game winning streak.
After averaging 17.1 points in the first half, Towns has put up 20.5 over his 27 games since the All-Star break. The favorite for Rookie of the Year scored the final of his 27 with 1.8 seconds remaining in Saturday's 106-105 road win over the Trail Blazers, but is looking to bounce back after scoring 12 in Monday's 129-105 home loss to Houston.
Towns did pass Christian Laettner for the team rookie record with 1,475 points.
"We're doing a great job this year," he said. "We've all made tremendous strides, so I think that this is the year that we've learned everything we need for next year."
Andrew Wiggins, the 2015 Rookie of the Year, is averaging a team-high 20.7 points. Backcourt mate Zach LaVine has scored 16.6 per game over his last 36 while forward Shabazz Muhammad has averaged 20 and 54.2 percent shooting in his last four.
Towns had 30 points and 15 rebounds, LaVine scored 25 and Wiggins hit two free throws with 3.6 seconds left as Minnesota (28-53) snapped a seven-game losing streak in this series with a 112-110 road win Feb. 27.