There was a fast-break opportunity for the Timberwolves late in the third quarter Wednesday night. A 13-point halftime deficit had been trimmed to nine when, out on the break, Jordan Bell went in for a slam dunk.
The ball bounced to Andrew Wiggins, who missed a putback. Moments later, New Orleans got a corner three from Josh Hart. All in about 17 seconds.
It was that kind of night.
The lackluster Wolves, playing without injured All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns, lost their eighth consecutive game and their eighth in a row at Target Center, 107-99 to a Pelicans team that came in having lost 13 straight. The Wolves (10-16) were playing for the first time in five days, while New Orleans flew to Minnesota after an 108-101 overtime loss to Brooklyn at home Tuesday.
But it was the Pelicans (7-22) that looked like the team with energy, the team getting 50-50 balls, the team playing with some desperation in a game between two squads that were a combined 0-20 since Thanksgiving.
Afterward, Wolves coach Ryan Saunders credited the Pelicans for playing with desperation, which only begged the question:
Why didn't the Wolves?
"It was disappointing," Wiggins said. He scored a team-high 27 points but was 9-for-23 from the field (39.1%), only slightly better shooting than the Wolves as a team (37.9%). "They're on a back-to-back. But you would think it was the other way around if you watched the game. They played harder. They got more of the loose balls. They played like they wanted it more."
Playing without Towns, the Wolves struggled to score, becoming the first Pelicans opponent not to score 100 points this season.
"It's heavy," Saunders said. "When you lose games, it's heavy. Especially on a streak. But I liked what we did the last couple days in practice. I know we felt good about those things. They didn't translate [Wednesday]."
The Wolves trailed 32-25 after one quarter, 63-50 at the half and 87-72 after three quarters.
Reserve forward Noah Vonleh scored five points in a 7-0 run to start the fourth, which cut the deficit to eight. It was still eight after Treveon Graham hit a three-pointer with 7:25 left. But the Pelicans scored the next 10 points over the next two-plus minutes — with Jrue Holiday (18 points) hitting two three-pointers — to put the game out of reach.
“We've just got to keep playing. It's easy to lose faith. … Some people can get overwhelmed. Some people react or respond in the right way. We've just got to keep going.”
Forward Brandon Ingram blistered the Wolves for a game-high 34 points on 12-for-22 shooting. The Pelicans hit 14 of 33 three-pointers.
At the other end, the Pelicans did what Wolves opponents have been doing for a while — packing the paint, daring the Wolves to beat them from outside. Without Towns, that was going to be difficult.
And it won't get easier with a looming four-game road swing to Denver and the West Coast.
"We've just got to keep playing," said Robert Covington, who scored 15 points but on 5-for-17 shooting. "It's easy to lose faith. … Some people can get overwhelmed. Some people react or respond in the right way. We've just got to keep going."
Saunders was asked if his team — which had been so good at playing through adversity earlier in the season — was struggling with that now. Had his team, at least for a night, given up?
"I don't think those are the right words to use," Saunders said. "I think frustrated. You can be frustrated because you've lost some games. But I'm not using those words."