NEW ORLEANS – The last time the Timberwolves visited New Orleans, the Pelicans scratched young superstar Anthony Davis from the lineup because of a foot injury he sustained in warmups, just six days after he delivered a 59-point, 20-rebound game last February.
No such luck for the Wolves Wednesday night at Smoothie King Center.
That’s where Davis played despite a knee he banged Friday night in Atlanta and where Davis scored 45 points in a 117-93 victory during which the third quarter vexed the Wolves yet again.
Trailing 21-9 before the game was seven minutes old and leading by eight points with fewer than six minutes left by halftime, the Wolves were outscored 15-4 to end the second quarter and 36-18 in a third quarter that bit again.
“Same thing, different day,” Wolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns said. “We have to fix it.”
The Wolves lost their third consecutive game, their fifth in the last seven and for the 10th time in 14 games this season and they did so on a night when coach Tom Thibodeau after the game ticked off the same list of things — defense, rebounding and every kind of toughness — his team has lacked often in the its first 13 games.
Afterward, he lamented that eight-point lead his team surrendered to end the first half after both Towns and big-man bookend Gorgui Dieng each committed his third foul and Thibodeau brought both to the bench for the rest of the half.
“If you’re going to be shorthanded with foul trouble and you can’t count on your defense and you can’t count on your rebounding, you can’t win,” Thibodeau said. “We started the game slowly, which is not good, came back, got the lead, foul trouble, go to the bench, don’t close out the quarter, eight-point lead gone in four minutes, down three at the half, come out, snowball third quarter.
“I don’t know what we’re doing defensively.”
The Pelicans started the season 0-8 and now have won four games consecutively and six of their last eight. They did so Wednesday after Davis scored 21 points in the first quarter alone, reached by early in the third quarter his 10th game of 30 points or more this season and scored 39 of his 45 by third quarter’s end.
The Wolves, meanwhile, were outscored 51-22 to end the second quarter through the third quarter on a night when young star Andrew Wiggins’ sudden shooting woes continued — and how — while they received precious little offensive production from the point-guard position.
After he did after the previous two games, Wiggins said he simply missed shots he normally makes. He did make nine of 10 free throws and scored 13 points, the same as Dieng and half of his team’s leading scorer Wednesday, Zach LaVine.
“You know, it happens,” said Wiggins, who not that long ago was the NBA’s three-point percentage leader and has gone 0-for-11 on threes the last three games. “I went to the gym yesterday and put up some shots and my shot felt good. The good thing about it, my shot felt good today and I just missed.”
Rubio didn’t make a shot — he only took two field-goal attempts — and didn’t score a point all night after he shot 2-for-18 in the three games before that. Rookie Kris Dunn provided the only points from that position, with six while he played the entire fourth quarter with the game long before decided.
“I think everybody got to look at the mirror and see if they’re bringing everything in the game,” Rubio said. “Talking personally, I’m not doing it and I have to do it more. I have to be more aggressive. I have to find myself again and lead this team like I’m supposed to.”
While general manager Scott Layden stared glumly at a stat sheet outside the Wolves’ locker room, Thibodeau stood not far away and said he’ll consider his options, including changing the way he uses his personnel.
“We’ve got to keep looking,” he said. “We’ve got to keep looking.”
Thibodeau hopes to find at least three kinds of toughness — “Physically, mentally, emotionally,” he said — he deems his team lacks.
When asked how they collectively find that, Towns said, “By not coming out here and just getting beat like we did today.”