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Wolves 116, Pelicans 98: Bouncing Back (and being on pace for 50 wins)

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Dear Mama, these Wolves can bounce back.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Minnesota Timberwolves
DO YOUR JOB, MAN. I’m an MVP candidate. I know where YOU should be.
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — After falling short in Boston on national television, with a majority of the basketball community tuning in, and inevitably casting judgment, the Timberwolves returned home to the Real North to take on the well-rested New Orleans Pelicans on a back-to-back.

For the second time this season against the Pelicans, the underdog Wolves, according to the bookies, won convincingly in the same back-to-back against a rested Pelicans squad situation. That makes them 3-0 this season vs. the Western Conferences’ 8th seeded Pelicans, and 21-6 in the conference. If you’re not keeping track, no team in the West has more conference wins, not even the Golden State Warriors.

True to their nature, the New Wolves bounced back from defeat by beating the Pelicans on Saturday night, 116-98. Midway through the 2017-18 season, the team currently sits firmly at fourth in the West, a place they’ve been for weeks, at 25-16. Wait for it...that means they’re on pace to win 50 games.

While the schedule is set to get much tougher moving forward, they haven’t had a three-game losing streak at any point this season. That’s obviously a rare trait seen in any of the teams in Minnesota throughout franchise history; this is one of the most resilient groups ever assembled.

Where should we begin by describing the game tonight? The Wolves wore their bold new eye-popping statement jerseys for the second time this season, avenging the first loss in them by crushing the Pelicans in an impressive wire-to-wire win that saw all five starters (plus Gorgui Dieng) in double figures.

But the best place to start is probably the lack of desire the Pelicans exhibited on the defensive end. Nobody should confuse them as a strong defensive team—they sit behind the Wolves in defensive rating at 110.2 points per 100 possessions (23rd of 30)—and tonight their execution and overall effort on that end was terribly non-existent.

On the other hand, the Wolves are a lot to handle these days. Unlike the past, opposing teams can no longer hit snooze on their way through Minneapolis.

“We weren’t ready to play and that’s my fault,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said after the blowout. “I’ve got to get everybody ready to play but they beat us in all phases of the game. They were quicker, they were better defensively, they were into the ball, they got the 50/50 balls so they beat us in all phases of the game.”

The Wolves secured their fifth wire-to-wire victory of the season on Saturday night. At one point, they were up 91-57 in the third (largest lead of the season). After the high-scoring first quarter (36-24 in favor of the Wolves) this didn’t feel like it was a night for them folding down the stretch.

Defensively speaking, this win marked the fifth straight opponent the Wolves have held to less than 100 points. Last time the team held at least five consecutive opponents below 100 points was a six-game stretch from Nov. 5-14, 2012. (#THIBS)

Karl-Anthony Towns showed up as Karlito. Remember Karlito? I sure do. I’ve been wondering for months now when we’d see him rise from the darkness again. Where has that alter-ego of the BIG KAT been? Like the Great Skull Collecting Nikola Pekovic that came before him, the one that takes no prisoners when fully activated, and the one that blasts Brandon Knight into a virtual coffin, the Wolves been missing the burly “get out of my club” bouncer type of big man.

The angry version of KAT (Put Some Respect On My Name) showed up in this one. He set a certain tone like the Godfather used to. Ho-hum. Karl-Anthony had 21 points and 16 rebounds to give him his 33rd double-double of the season and 146th of his career. Towns played with a chip on his shoulder against his Kentucky counterparts, Cousins and Davis. He also has one of the sweetest strokes ever seen from a big man; smooth, crisp, and basically perfect. The way it comes off his fingertips inspires confidence that it’s going in every time. He flashed that long-range jumper again tonight, hitting 3-3 from deep, improving his mark to 46.7% over the last 11 games (21-45). (#3KAT)

Coming off the bench, Gorgui Dieng finished with 14 points on 6-9 shooting. During this season’s three meetings with the Pelicans, Dieng has averaged 15.0 points, including a season-high 19 points on Nov. 29 in New Orleans. G seems to be at his best against the Pelicans this season; the physicality doesn’t throw him off and he can flourish in his two-man pick-and-pop game with Jamal Crawford.

Jimmy Butler was Jimmy Butler. If that doesn’t make any sense, you probably haven’t been watching him. He recorded his 24th 20+ point game and fifth in his last six games. 21 points on 7-15 shooting with eight assists and seven rebounds. Once the Wolves took the 30-point lead, Butler sat on the bench pouring water on the backs of unsuspecting teammates in what appeared to be complete, relaxed, unfiltered Jimmy joy.

Andrew Wiggins finished with 20 points and eight rebounds.. THE REBOUNDS! My dad loves rebounds, especially when Wiggins grabs them. His theory (as I’ve tweeted about) is the Wolves are awesome when Andrew hits the glass. Including tonight’s win, the Wolves are now 12-4 this season when Wiggins has 5+ rebounds. Scott Meyer is pleased.

Tyus Jones ran the show again in place of the injured Jeff Teague (left MCL sprain). He had 10 points on 4-9 shooting in his second double-digit performance in the last three games and his fifth of the season. Jones’ buckets all seemed vital at the time. He finished some tough layups in traffic. Stones Jones really just did his job. Still, he’s probably being too unselfish on the court. Butler has made a point to get on his case about shooting it more often instead of hunting what could amount to being a better shot, but might not actually end up being.

The Wolves outscored the Pelicans in the paint 60-48, as well as doubling New Orleans’ points in transition with 14 (Pelicans: 7). Jones talked about the importance of getting stops first. They can’t play with pace without stops on the defensive end. Get stops first, then they can get out in transition.

DeMarcus Cousins recorded his 29th double-double with 23 points and 15 rebounds and three blocks. Anthony Davis finished with 16 points (5-12, 6-6 from the line) while contributing nine rebounds and two blocked shots. It seemed like he was asleep all night for whatever reason (the winter breeze up north?). I noticed him maybe three times during the game and that’s saying a lot for a guy as talented as THE UNIBROW.

I need to highlight this play because it’s easily one of my favorites of the season by Karl-Anthony Towns. Watch him fight through two screens before swatting Anthony Davis.

THIS IS KARLITO...

Tonight’s locker room music, as always courtesy of Jimmy Butler, was “Dear Mama” by Tupac. As Butler and some of his teammates (Aaron Brooks, Andrew Wiggins, Marcus Georges-Hunt) quietly sang along, I thought about my mom and all of the times she’s asked me how the Timberwolves were doing over the past decade.

Dear Mama, the Wolves are finally good again.

POSTGAME QUOTES

Tom Thibodeau

On the offensive execution...

“The offense was a lot better today. The defense, I think, has been moving in the right direction. I thought the willingness to move the ball and keeping it moving and making plays for each other was terrific.”

On Wiggins getting them off to a good start...

“Well, I think they made the game easier for each other by making the extra pass. When you move the ball like that, now you’re going to get rhythm on your shots, which I thought we did. New Orleans is a tough team. They have a lot of weapons. They spread you out pretty good. For us, it was our fifth game in seven days. It’s been a challenge. Each guy responded well.”

On Towns handling the physicality...

“Yeah, it was nice to see him play a game against New Orleans...

ME...

“They are physical. It can be frustrating at times, but he can’t allow that to get to him. I thought he handled that really well today. He showed a lot of maturity and growth in terms of not reacting to calls and non-calls and just playing. He’s playing a really strong all-around game right now. He’s seeing things. He’s making great plays out of the post and it’s added another dimension to our offense. Even in the Boston game, at the start of the game, we didn’t make shots, but I liked the shots that we were getting.”

On Towns coming into his own...

“And that’s the hard thing I think when you have young guys and they’re going through things. He’s had stretches where he’s played very well. He just hasn’t been able to sustain it over a period of time. I think he’s starting to develop an understanding now of how important it is to prepare for each opponent. I think that comes with experience. I know he loves winning. He’s doing a lot of great things out there for us.”

Karl-Anthony Towns

On finally playing a good game against New Orleans...

“We were joking about it before, but it was good to be out there and try to help my teammates win instead of, the last two times, being on the bench. It was a lot of fun. We played a great game. My teammates were absolutely amazing. They were the reason we got the win tonight.”

On the powerful dunks in the second quarter...

“I don’t know. I was just being aggressive. I don’t know any other way to say it. Just trying to take what the defense was giving to me. Not trying to force anything up. My teammates were getting me open. Jimmy making plays, Tyus, Taj, Andrew, Jamal… Everyone on the team was making plays for each other. I just seemed at that one point to be the beneficiary of it.”

On the feeling of being out there after the first two games against New Orleans...

“Yeah, like I said before the game, it was great. Whatever the situation I was put in (in the last two games), we still came out with great wins.”

Taj Gibson

On the team’s defense...

“It’s getting better. The more we’re locked in the more sense of urgency we have. Our defense plays a big part in it. We understood we needed to get this win tonight, especially after a tough two games on the road. We had to bounce back on our part. We know we have another tough one coming up. The rest of the week is going to be tough.”

On the ball movement...

“It’s awesome. We’re racking up assists out there when we move the ball. When everyone plays unselfish it makes the game so much easier. We have so many different weapons and we were able to flourish. We just have to play with that same attitude the rest of the way. Every game is different, but that’s a good start.”

HIGHLIGHTS

PRESSER

Check this out...

And we back

And we back, and we back, and we back, and we back, and we

And we back, and we back, na, na, na

Wolves is all we got