The standings may not have shown it, but there was plenty of star power on display Sunday night in the Smoothie King Center.
The New Orleans Pelicans shined brightest, notching a dazzling 123-109 victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves. It marked the Pelicans' fourth win in their past five games, maintaining their fingernail grip on the edge of the Western Conference playoff race; they're still 4½ games behind the Denver Nuggets.
Based on the difficulty of shots and the binges of scoring, Sunday’s game didn’t look like one featuring the 11th- and 12th-best teams in the West. But, considering the jockeying taking place on the bottom half of the standings, it proved to be a critical night for New Orleans.
“We knew this was a must-win for us,” Anthony Davis said.
Davis responded in kind, posting 28 points and 12 rebounds to lead the way, but he was far from alone. Jrue Holiday pitched in with one of his most impressive performances since the All-Star break, scoring 21 points and dishing seven assists. DeMarcus Cousins added 15 points and 11 rebounds.
But even their potent display may have been outshined by guard Jordan Crawford, who poured in 22 points (15 in the second half) off the bench, less than two weeks after signing a 10-day contract.
Each member of the quartet was able to string together dominant stretches, helping the Pelicans shoot 55 percent and overwhelming Minnesota’s young stars. Not that Karl-Anthony Towns (33 points, six rebounds) and Andrew Wiggins (22 points) were quiet, but the pair couldn’t keep up with the Pelicans’ balanced attack.
“I love it,” Holiday said. “It brings energy. I get excited when other people score, whether it’s from me or if I’m on the bench watching Jordan do what he do. It’s fun to watch and fun to play in.”
It may not have reached the same dominant level as the Pelicans' two previous blowouts of the Timberwolves, but they were able to overcome a sluggish defensive performance — particularly in the opening half — by overwhelming Minnesota through its array of scoring threats.
Six Pelicans reached double figures, and New Orleans posted 31 assists, eclipsing the 30-assist plateau for just the fourth time all season but the second time in the past eight days.
The Pelicans also turned 20 transition opportunities into 33 fast-break points, the team’s second-best total of the season and a sign that Cousins’ addition doesn’t necessarily need to slow them down.
“Really, we are just playing off each other and moving the ball,” Holiday said. “It’s about everybody getting touches and everybody being happy.”
After the Pelicans dominated the first two matchups, when Davis posted a combined 87 points, Minnesota attempted to change that Sunday by jumping to a 13-point second-quarter lead. Not only was Davis held in check — relatively, scoring 10 first-half points on seven shots — but the Timberwolves scored in bunches.
Minnesota did most of its work on the offensive end, notching 34 first-quarter points and shooting better than 60 percent for the first 20 minutes to gain a 54-48 halftime edge.
But New Orleans changed the tenor in the second half, ripping off a 20-6 run in the early portion of the third quarter, expertly crafted by the combination of Holiday, Davis and Cousins. The trio totaled 27 points on 77 percent shooting in the quarter, putting Minnesota on its heels.
“You have to pick your poison,” the Pelicans' Solomon Hill said. “When we play the pace that we’re playing and AD gets easy buckets in transition. Jrue gets downhill. It’s hard to account for everybody. You have to be a special team to stop multiple guys like that, especially when they’re rolling. And that’s what we want. We want to be running down your neck.”
Minnesota could never slow them again as the Pelicans posted a 75-point second half to carry their momentum into the final four weeks of the season, still clinging to hopes of a run to the playoffs.
It will hinge, in part, on whether the Pelicans can carry the past week’s performance into Tuesday night’s matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies in the Smoothie King Center.
“Momentum is the next game,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “I don’t think there’s anything that has to do with traction. You just have to be consistent in what you’re doing. So I don’t know if momentum is anything I’ve ever agreed with.
“I think we were good tonight. I thought we were good the other night, but we’ll see what happens a few nights from now.”