Looking ahead after a glance in the rear-view mirror, the New Orleans Pelicans were intent on taking care of business Sunday afternoon at the Smoothie King Center.
The Pelicans again shot better than 50 percent and held an opponent to fewer than 90 points to win their second consecutive game after four losses, bouncing the struggling Minnesota Timberwolves 110-88.
“A lot of guys played well,” coach Monty Williams said. “Our bench guys were really good. We had three tough losses on the road. We came back home to right the ship, and we put ourselves in a position to be right there (in the playoff race), and that’s all you can ask.”
With the Pelicans (39-34) set to return to the road for three games, starting Wednesday at the Los Angeles Lakers, Sunday’s win gave them a 2-1 homestand. And the victory let the Pelicans keep pace with Oklahoma City in the fight for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference; the Thunder beat Phoenix 109-97 on Sunday night to remain 21/2 games ahead of New Orleans.
The Pelicans did what they were supposed to do at home against an injury-plagued team with four starters out and two rookies in the starting lineup. They jumped on the Timberwolves early and, even though the road got rocky, they righted themselves and closed out strong. Reserves played the final five minutes.
The Pelicans forced 21 turnovers, the most by an opponent since getting 22 against Minnesota in a Nov. 14 blowout. And New Orleans shot 57.3 percent, its third-best performance of the season.
Anthony Davis led six Pelicans in double figures with 28 points, and he added nine rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block. Guard Eric Gordon bounced back from 2-of-11 shooting in his previous two games to score 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting, along with seven assists. And Omer Asik had 15 points, his first double-figure scoring game since March 17.
Obviously intent on closing out the Timberwolves (16-57) early, Davis scored seven of the Pelicans’ points in a 9-0 run to start the fourth as they took an 83-70 lead. New Orleans rode that wave to an 88-72 bulge by 9:26.
After an up-and-down second quarter, the Pelicans asserted themselves in the third. And for the second consecutive game, the backup point guard duo of Norris Cole and Toney Douglas, along with forward Dante Cunningham, affected the change.
NBA dunk contest winner Zach LaVine had brought Minnesota within 53-49 with a 3-pointer and slam on consecutive possessions. But with the Pelicans clamping down on defense, Davis scored five points in an 11-4 run, and the Pelicans restored order at 64-53 midway through the quarter.
The lead reached 77-63, matching the largest of the game, on a jumper by Eric Gordon with 1:08 left.
“We just try to get a team out of their rhythm,” Douglas said. “Second quarter, we laid back a little bit. They scored 30 points in the second quarter. The second unit has to bring energy every game — no letups.”
NOTE: Minnesota’s Kevin Garnett, who is in his 20th and perhaps final season, did not play. Coach Flip Saunders said Garnett has been ill the past four days.