NEW ORLEANS – Timberwolves rookie center Karl-Anthony Towns was 16 years old the first time he faced Anthony Davis, a young man who preceded him as both a University of Kentucky star and No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft.
Towns looks so young in photos and video from that summer 2012 game when he played for the Dominican Republic national team against Davis and Team USA in a Las Vegas exhibition game.
"I had no facial hair," Towns said. "It was cool because it allowed me to get a taste of the NBA and the talent that's in it, to see how much more I had to work. I was young."
They met again Tuesday night in New Orleans, with Davis on his way toward NBA superstardom despite playing on a team that made the playoffs last season but is a long way from doing so again this season. Towns, meanwhile, is in contention for Rookie of the Year honors. Davis finished second in the rookie voting to Portland guard Damian Lillard three seasons ago.
Davis scored a game-high 35 points in the Pelicans' 114-99 victory, shooting 13-for-22 from the field. Towns had 20 points and 13 rebounds.
They played against each other in pickup games last summer in Lexington, Ky. Theirs is a relationship Towns calls friendly without being friends because of their age difference.
"We played two different years," Towns said. "I respect him tremendously, his game. That's a Kentucky brethren of mine."
Towns is more low-post center who can step out and shoot the three-pointer. Davis is more rangy, springy power forward who plays all over the court. But each in his own way is the new generation of NBA big man.
"AD's a different player than I am," Towns said. "Different times, different players."
KG up first
Towns matched up defensively against Davis on Tuesday after starter Kevin Garnett came out of the game at power forward.
Garnett has been starting on the first night of back-to-back games while Nikola Pekovic sat out because the center is not yet cleared to play games on consecutive nights. Pekovic will play Wednesday at Dallas while Garnett rests.
That is the rotation because, according to Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell, Garnett prefers to play the first night of such games.
•Former Wolves forward Dante Cunningham started at small forward because the Pelicans already have Davis and Ryan Anderson at power forward. "[Cunningham] really is more of a '4' man but we want him on the floor," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said.
•Wolves assistant coach Bryan Gates returned to New Orleans, where he spent the past five years in a nomadic coaching career. His triplet daughters were born after his first season with the Pelicans.
"Everybody in these hallways watched them grow up," said Gates, hired just before this season. "It's good to come back."