MINNEAPOLIS — A slow start wasn’t going to stop the New Orleans Pelicans.
The team’s starting guards made sure of that.
Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans combined for 37 points as the Pelicans erased a 10-point, first-quarter lead and pulled away late in the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night at Target Center for a 92-84 victory.
“You’ve got to take advantage of what they give you, and that’s what we did,” said Gordon, who finished with 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting. “Our main thing was not to turn over the ball and shoot a high percentage.”
New Orleans is 2-0 this season against Minnesota after a 139-91 beatdown on Nov. 14. It was the worst loss in Timberwolves history.
“We played them very early in the season and to get a win out here on the road is a good for us, because we needed it and just built momentum and try to make a run for the playoffs,” Gordon said.
The win gives New Orleans its first two-game winning streak since it beat Utah on Dec. 16 and Houston two days later. That five-week stretch without stringing together victories hasn’t escaped Pelicans coach Monty Williams.
“It’s not like I don’t know it,” Williams joked. “I’ve been hearing about it for over a month, as you say. The thing is we’re not trying to string up two, we’d like to get on a real streak. And we’ve been able to do that in the past — get three, four wins in a row. It’s easier said than done, but we’re capable of doing it. We get a chance to go back and play at home.”
It’s a critical point in the season for New Orleans (22-21) as it tries to get in the Western Conference playoff race.
“It’s about halfway for us in the season, we have to get on a run while other teams are winning,” Gordon said. “The teams that are ahead of us are going to keep winning, there’s no slowing down for them. For us, we’ve got to get over that hump and beat most of these Western Conference teams.”
The Pelicans, winners of three of their last four games, have split their last six road games. The team is now 9-16 on the road this season. Minnesota (7-35) has lost 19 of its last 21 games.
The Pelicans shot 58.8 percent from field in the first half after starting out the game 0-for-4. For the game, New Orleans was 50 percent (40-for-80) shooting from the field. The Pelicans are 9-0 in games this season when they make at least half of their shots. The Timberwolves hit 41.7 percent (35-for-84) on the night.
“We did it with our defense, holding them to 84 points,” Williams said. “That’s two games in a row we’ve held teams in the 80s. We just found ways to make plays in the second half, but especially down the stretch. … Our defense caused some turnovers and we got out in transition and forced them to call timeout a couple times. I thought that really helped us with our momentum.”
The Pelicans are 5-1 this season when they hold teams to 87 points or less.
“That’s what we’ve got to bank our wins on, just playing defense for the whole 48 minutes,” said Davis, who tallied his 24th double-double of the season with 21 points and 12 rebounds. “If we can do that, we can definitely put up some wins.”
It was a rough start for the Pelicans. Down 11-1, New Orleans didn’t hit its first field goal until 8:19 left in the first quarter on an Anthony Davis turnaround jumper. Down 13-3, the Pelicans answered with a 13-3 run to tie the game at 18 at the 3:12 mark of the opening quarter. New Orleans took its first lead of the game at 22-20 late in the first, hitting 10 of its last 14 shots.
In a back-and-forth second period, the Pelicans had six straight fastbreak points and took a 35-32 lead. Consecutive baskets by Evans sent the Pelicans into the locker room up 45-44.
“The first half was a little bit of an old-school boxing match, we were just going back and forth,” Williams said. “In the second half, we just made enough plays.”
The Pelicans came out of the second half on a 10-6 run as Dante Cunningham, who scored 14 points, had back-to-back hoops to make it 55-50. New Orleans stretched its lead to 10, 66-56, after a field goal by Davis.
The Timberwolves, who were led in scoring by Thaddeus Young with 15 points, made it a three-point game in the fourth, 71-68, but the Pelicans responded with a 7-2 run as Evans scored five of his 17 points in the stretch. With the score 88-82, Davis drained a long jumper to put the Wolves away. In the waning minutes, the Pelicans’ lead didn’t shrink below four points.
New Orleans is now headed back home for six games in a row and nine of its next 10.
“We have an X-amount of games at home and we’re going to try and get all of them, try to separate ourselves from .500,” Davis said. “We’re one game above right now, but we’ve been on this rollercoaster, win one, lose one and getting back to .500. So we’re trying to separate ourselves, and now that we’ve got a lot of games at home, we’re going to try to do that.”
Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson missed the game due to an ankle injury. Anderson had played in all 42 games coming in and is averaging 14.7 points per night. ... Nine of the next 10 games for the Pelicans will be at home. The team is 13-5 at Smoothie King Center. ... Nate Wolters came off the bench and scored five key points for New Orleans. ... Alexis Ajinca registered a career-high five blocked shots. His previous high was three blocked shots.