The Timberwolves needed this.
No controversy, very little drama. Two days after a bitter loss to Dallas that ended with a much-bemoaned no-call, the Wolves came out Wednesday and basically took no prisoners.
Against a young, athletic New Orleans team beginning to play to its potential, the Wolves showed an aggressive, physical, pounding style in a 124-112 victory at Target Center that was not as close as the score indicated.
Essentially the Wolves wore the Pelicans down, and then ran the score up, matching their season high in points while shooting a season-best 55.7 percent.
“It’s just a great feeling,” said center Nikola Pekovic, who led the physical charge, scoring 20 of his 22 points in the first three quarters, as the Wolves build a lead as big as 30 points. “Especially the way we put the effort in from the beginning. And we didn’t give up until the very end.”
The Pelicans (14-16) decided to use the athletic Anthony Davis on Kevin Love outside, leaving Ryan Anderson to battle with Pekovic inside. That was their first mistake.
Pekovic and the rest of the Wolves were aggressive from the beginning. And the spoils can be seen in their 35-22 edge in free throw attempts and the Pelicans’ season-high 18 turnovers.
The Wolves started the game 6-for-17 but hit on 38 of their final 62 attempts on a night when seven players scored in double figures. Love’s streak of scoring at least 25 points ended at 11 games. With the Pelicans dedicated to slowing him down, Love still scored 21 points, though he needed 19 shots to do it. But it didn’t matter. Ricky Rubio had 14 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. Kevin Martin added 20 points. And the recently maligned Wolves bench, which totaled just five points Monday, turned in 42.
It was the seventh time this season the Wolves had three scorers with 20-plus and the third time seven players had 10 or more.
“That was one of my favorite wins,” said Love, whose six rebounds set a season low. “I didn’t play particularly well, but a lot of guys did. It was nice. We wanted to fight back, get back to .500 again.’’
And they did. Minnesota led by five after a quarter, by 14 at halftime. The Wolves led by 12 early in the third quarter when Rubio’s two free throws began a 19-2 run that ended with Corey Brewer feeding Martin on the break for a 82-53 lead. Moments later, that lead grew to 30. And if the Pelicans made it close in a rather loose fourth quarter? It was enough to make Wolves coach Rick Adelman a bit miffed, but nobody else.
Anderson finished with 25 points, but 10 of those came after the game was essentially decided. Jrue Holiday had 19, and Tyreke Evans came off the bench to score 16.
“I think we set the tone from the beginning,” Rubio said. “And for the [whole] game. That’s a great effort from everybody.’’
And now, for the fifth time since December began, the Wolves (16-16) have a chance to push above .500 this Saturday against Oklahoma City. Minnesota hasn’t had a winning record since late November.
But then, the team hasn’t felt this good for a long time, either. The Wolves needed a performance like this.
“It was great,” said J.J. Barea, who led the reserves with 17 points. “It was a great effort against a good team. We got stops, we moved the ball. It was the first time Kevin [Love] had a bad game — for him — and we won. This is good for us.”