Exactly a week after the marmot searched for his shadow, the Timberwolves on Friday at Target Center relived their own Groundhog Day in a 122-106 loss to New Orleans.
Leading by 15 points early and trailing by 21 points late, the Wolves allowed a Pelicans team with five players injured or absent to shoot 60 percent and outscore them 61-41 in the second half.
Have you seen this before?
“It’s a repeating cycle,” Wolves forward Andrew Wiggins said. “We just have to change it.”
The only difference this time around: Boos showered from an audience announced at 16,093 in the game’s closing minutes.
If you think it has been repetitive until now, 54 games into the season, Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau vows to be even more so in delivering his messages to his players, among the many messages for his best players to lead and defend.
He was asked afterward if it’s tiresome to deliver the same message time and again.
“Nope, nope,” he said. “My job is to deliver it. So it’s going to keep coming, and it’ll keep coming and it’ll keep coming and it’ll keep coming and it’ll keep coming and it’ll keep coming. So we’ll either figure it out or figure something out.”
A reminder: The NBA’s trade deadline is Feb. 23 and summer’s free-agent spending binge opens July 1, scant days after the NBA draft.
The first time these teams played, Pelicans superstar Anthony Davis scored 45 points in a 117-96 victory at New Orleans the night before Thanksgiving.
This time, he scored a mere 42 points on 16-for-22 shooting and grabbed 13 rebounds on a night when Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry just hoped to cobble together a lineup good enough to compete. The Pelicans played without Terrence Jones, Tyreke Evans, E’Twaun Moore, Alexis Ajinca and Quincy Pondexter.
It didn’t hurt any, either, that the Pelicans’ backcourt of veteran Jrue Holiday and rookie Buddy Hield combined to equal Davis’ 42 points.
Asked what his team could do differently against Davis after these first two times this season, Thibodeau said, “Well, we can try to guard him. I mean, he’s a great player. He’s averaging 28 points a game. He has had 40 twice against us. So a guy like that you have to try to make him work and have to guard him with team. We also have to have greater awareness right now out there.”
Towns tried to keep Davis’ pace and actually outdid him early, making seven of his first nine shots and scoring 19 of his 36 points in the first quarter. By then, the Wolves already had scored 40 points and led New Orleans by 12 at quarter’s end.
But their lead and pace didn’t last, not after the Pelicans reversed course with an 18-3 second-quarter run. The Wolves led by four points at halftime and trailed by three when Towns went to the bench midway through the third quarter after picking up his fourth foul.
By the time he returned to start the fourth quarter, a 78-75 deficit had become 98-89, and the Wolves never got that close again as New Orleans started the final quarter on a another run, 15-3 this time.
“The games reveal exactly where you are,” Thibodeau said. “So 122 points, up four at the half, but they’re shooting 60 [percent]. So you know it’s an offensive game. When we stopped scoring, when Karl went to the bench, I think we were down two and the game got away from us there.”
Thibodeau can talk and talk and talk — or more — and vows to do so, but …
“It’s on us,” Wiggins said after he scored 29 points. “He keeps saying it, but he can’t come out on the court and physically be out there playing for us. It’s our mind-set. We have to go out there and do it.”