Beauty is a subjective thing. But this was a game maybe only a Timberwolf could love.
Why, even Rick Adelman, up on the podium addressing the media as the coach of an NBA team with a winning record for the first time in two months, found plenty to find fault with.
“No energy in the game, anywhere,” he said.
The Wolves struggled on offense and spent most of the night letting a New Orleans team without three top players hang around. But in an 88-77 victory at Target Center — the Wolves’ lowest point total in a victory this season — there were some beautiful nuggets to be found.
The Wolves won without injured center Nikola Pekovic. They won while shooting only 40.2 percent. For the first time in 11 tries since Thanksgiving, the Wolves entered a game at .500 and won, period.
“We don’t want to get too up,” forward Kevin Love said. He scored 30 points with 14 rebounds and five assists while playing a season-high 43 minutes and 26 seconds, and then immediately went downstairs for a weightlifting session. “We’ve been playing some good basketball. … But we still have a lot of work to do.”
The Wolves have now won consecutive games while scoring 95 and 88 points. One of the league’s highest-scoring teams is learning to win games when the going gets a little tougher. The Wolves (23-22) have won five of six games, perhaps the beginnings of the kind of run the team has been looking for all season.
“This is a game where, earlier in the season, we might not have been able to have the mental toughness to stick with the program and weather the storm,” said Ronny Turiaf, who had four points and eight rebounds starting in Pekovic’s place. “I feel it shows some growth.”
While the Wolves barely cracked 40 percent shooting and were 4-for-20 from three-point range, the team turned in another strong defensive opponent. Two nights after holding Chicago to 37.6 percent shooting, the Wolves coaxed the punchless Pelicans into a 29-for-82 evening (35.4 percent).
“It looks like we’re finally having fun playing defense, which is sometimes allergic to a lot of guys,” joked guard Kevin Martin, who scored 18 points. “I won’t say who.”
Still, this was a close game throughout, even though the Wolves never trailed. New Orleans (19-26), already injury-riddled, was without rising star Anthony Davis, who dislocated the index finger on his left hand Tuesday in Cleveland.
The Wolves led only 23-16 after one quarter. That lead was cut to four midway through the second, prompting an animated talking-to by Adelman. Up 67-62 entering the fourth quarter, Love took over. He scored on a layup, hit a 21-footer, then two free throws in an 8-0 run to start the quarter that put the Wolves up 13 when Dante Cunningham (12 points) hit from the lane with 9:57 remaining. The Pelicans, who got 18 points from Al-Farouq Aminu and 14 from Eric Gordon, never got closer than eight points again.
So does this feel like the start of something?
“It feels a lot better than the other runs we’ve had,” Adelman said. “No, it’s what we have to do. We have to get a feeling of how we win games. On that trip [the team’s recently concluded 3-1 road trip], we’re finding we can win these games. But we can’t stop here. Memphis [Friday’s opponent] is the type of game we have not won.”