NEW ORLEANS – Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman predicted the season’s third meeting with the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night would be different from the first two times, when his team won at Target Center.
He was regrettably right about a 98-91 loss to the Pelicans, a loss in which Wolves star forward Kevin Love returned to the starting lineup after sitting out a game.
Leading by 12 points late in the third quarter and by nine with 10 minutes left, the Wolves’ offense disappeared once again down the stretch. They scored only two baskets during a nearly eight-minute stretch after taking a 75-66 lead with 10 minutes remaining.
New Orleans went on a 23-7 run after that, led by reserve guard Anthony Morrow’s perfect three-point shooting, Eric Gordon’s scoring and newly named All-Star forward Anthony Davis’ physical presence over the next seven minutes. The Wolves were outscored 37-20 in the fourth quarter.
Morrow made all three three-pointers he attempted in the final quarter and Gordon scored all of his nine fourth-quarter points in that run. The Pelicans took an 89-82 lead with 2:40 left, and the Wolves never recovered.
The Pelicans shot 65 percent in the fourth quarter — including 5-for-7 on threes — to the Wolves’ 33 percent (6-18). That fourth quarter presented the same sort of themes that have cost the Wolves games all season.
They are again two games under .500 at 24-26 and fading from playoff contention, 5½ games behind Dallas for the West’s eighth and final playoff spot.
“I don’t think we played well together,” Adelman said. “We’ve got to find a way to trust each other better than that. We were forcing everything. We just have to be stronger. We can’t expect officials to bail us out, and I thought a few times that’s what we tried to do.”
Ricky Rubio’s three-pointer got the Wolves within 89-85 with 2:17 left, but Morrow answered with a wide-open three of his own. When the Wolves got within 94-91 in the final minute, Pelicans point guard Brian Roberts responded by making a long two-pointer with 22.9 seconds to go that sealed the game.
But the Wolves very well might have lost the game in the fourth quarter’s opening minutes rather than its closing minutes.
“We have to learn how to win those games,” Rubio said. “Ten [points] up in the fourth quarter, we just have to lock down and play some D. We didn’t do it tonight. We have to learn from that, but it has been a lot of games like that already.”
The Pelicans started their comeback from 75-66 down with 10 minutes left against a Wolves second unit that has struggled most of the season trying to keep up with what the team’s starters produce.
By the time Adelman started to bring the starters back into the game by subbing Love back in with 8:43 left, the Wolves’ lead was down to 75-73. By the time Rubio returned midway through the quarter, the Pelicans led by three.
Adelman was asked if stuck with the second unit too long.
“I don’t know,” Adelman said. “I’ll have to look and see. I don’t know, yeah, we lost the game so I guess I did something wrong.”
Love finished with 26 points and 19 rebounds, playing 35-plus minutes and working his way to the free-throw line for more shots — 17-16 — than the entire Pelicans team took all night. He vowed to play in this game even though he said he still was feeling the effects from a nasty fall he took late in Tuesday’s victory over the Lakers at Target Center, a fall that sidelined him for Wednesday’s loss at Oklahoma City.
Following the game, he spent time on the trainer’s table, consulting with a Pelicans team doctor before he returned to the locker room and called himself battered and bruised but otherwise seemingly all right.
“I thought he was going out of the game at one point and then he came back in,” Adelman said. “I don’t know, we’ll see how he is tomorrow.”