The New Orleans Pelicans came out on top in their second matchup with the Minnesota Timberwolves in five days.
The Pelicans defeated the Timberwolves 120-107 at the Target Center in Minnesota on Sunday afternoon. The Wolves had upset New Orleans 139-134 at the Smoothie King Center last Tuesday.
The Pelicans appeared to have revenge on their minds early, building a 17-point lead in the first quarter. Minnesota went on a 16-3 run to cut New Orleans' lead to 36-33 early in the second quarter, but that momentum was completely evaporated by the third quarter as New Orleans took a 98-84 advantage into the fourth quarter. The Pelicans kept their foot on the gas from there.
When Minnesota defeated New Orleans, the T-Wolves saw starting guards D'Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley combine for 51 points, while the bench outscored Pels reserves 48-22. This time around, All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday led a cohesive offensive effort for New Orleans with a season-high 37 points—his fourth 30-point outing of the season.
The 29-year-old veteran came up two assists and one rebound shy of his first career 30-point triple-double, per Pelicans PR.
Holiday was also pivotal to stifling the T-Wolves' backcourt, which plays a larger role in Minnesota's success because the team remains without center Karl-Anthony Towns as he continues to nurse a fractured wrist suffered prior to February's All-Star break.
Holiday's stellar day helped compensate for New Orleans' being without rookie guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker (fractured wrist) and veteran guard JJ Redick (hamstring).
It is pivotal for the 28-36 Pelicans to beat inferior opponents like the 19-44 Timberwolves if they are going to catch the 32-32 Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
NO G Jrue Holiday: 37 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 1 steal, 1 block
NO F Zion Williamson: 23 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block
NO F Brandon Ingram: 15 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists, 1 steal
NO G Lonzo Ball: 18 points, 5 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals
MIN G Malik Beasley: 21 points, 9 rebounds, 1 steal
MIN G D'Angelo Russell: 19 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, 1 block
MIN F James Johnson: 15 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 block
Zion Williamson Notches 14th 20-Point Game Since Jan. 31 While Jrue Holiday Soars
Williamson was the first teenager in NBA history to string together 13 straight games with at least 20 points scored. That streak was snapped Friday when he bucketed 17 points in the Pelicans' 110-104 victory over the Miami Heat.
The rookie top overall pick started a new such streak and joined Michael Jordan in the league's history books against the Timberwolves:
Williamson, as has already become the norm, did so in style:
However, the 19-year-old phenom did this as a complementary player.
Meanwhile, Holiday shot 65 percent from the field, including 3-of-8 from three, to lead all scorers:
And it could not have come at a better time for the Pelicans:
Holiday discussed his season-best performance as well as his team's playoff push with Jennifer Hale after the game:
What happened against the T-Wolves is the best possible situation for New Orleans moving forward: Williamson continuing to grow into the franchise's face while the likes of Holiday, Ball and Ingram take pressure away from him.
Sunday's collective effort is exactly what the Pelicans had in mind when constructing this roster.
Karl-Anthony Towns' Absence Is Glaring in Minnesota
As Holiday erupted for 37 points and Williamson continued compiling his highlight reel, it became clear what the Timberwolves were lacking against the Pelicans.
Towns has been the Timberwolves' most consistent player since the franchise drafted him first overall in 2015. The 24-year-old appeared in all 82 regular-season games in each of his first three professional campaigns before playing in an ever so slightly fewer 77 games last season.
The Kentucky product's drop-off to 35 games so far this season is glaring.
The Pelicans out-rebounded the Towns-less Timberwolves 54-42 while also outscoring them in the paint 66-58. Minnesota's problems only worsened away from the rim, going 8-of-33 from deep.
Russell, whom the T-Wolves traded to acquire from Golden State prior to last month's deadline, went 0-of-7 from three.
While Minnesota is lacking a game-changing star presence without Towns on the court, the franchise brought Russell in to address its long-standing issue of not having a reliable star paired with Towns.
It is true that Minnesota just beat New Orleans without Towns less than a week ago. It is also true that this game proved that model is not sustainable.
If the T-Wolves determine that Towns can return this season without risking longer-term damage, the lone silver lining in Minnesota from 2019-20 will be evaluating whether the Russell-Towns duo can be the answer.
The Timberwolves next play the Rockets in Houston on Tuesday night, and the Pelicans will continue their four-game road trip in Sacramento on Wednesday night.