While Zion Williamson’s 20-point game streak grows, New Orleans dropped the first leg of a back-to-back to the overhauled Minnesota Timberwolves at home Tuesday night.
On the same day he was given his first Western Conference Rookie of the Month award, Williamson scored 25 points to push this now to 12 consecutive games over the 20-point mark. Only seven rookies in the last 40 years have recorded longer streaks: Michael Jordan (23), Blake Griffin (14), Patrick Ewing (13), Ron Hunter, Alonzo Mourning, Glenn Robinson, and Tim Duncan. Once Williamson surpasses 14-straight contests, the list shrinks to Jordan alone.
Since these two teams last met in mid-December, the Timberwolves decided to completely transform their roster in a shift centered around 2015 No. 2 pick D’Angelo Russell. Out went seven players and two draft picks, including former No. 1 selection Andrew Wiggins, in return for Russell, Malik Beasley, Juan Hernangomez, James Johnson, Evan Turner, Omari Spellman, Jacob Evans and a 2020 first-round pick via Brooklyn.
Throw everything you knew about them before out the window. Even after losing seven of their previous eight entering Tuesday and being without Karl Anthony-Towns (left wrist fracture), Minnesota wasn’t ever going to be an easy out.
Honestly, with that in mind, it was appalling to see the defensive effort New Orleans tossed at the Timberwolves in the middle of a playoff push – especially the Russell-Beasley backcourt pairing which combined for 51 points on the evening. When Zion sat down with 3:47 remaining in the first quarter, the Pelicans held a seven-point advantage. That lead shrunk to simply one possession by the end of frame, before Minnesota followed with a 44-point burst in the next 12 minutes.
“I think we got lured into how they play,” Jrue Holiday said following just his fourth career triple-double. “Sometimes it’s enticing to go and score, play fast that way, then somebody gets a bucket and you go right back at them. We’ve seen it from multiple teams. Gentry talked about he used to do it in Phoenix. One thing we have to do differently is just play defense. Sit down and guard.”
New Orleans went on a 15-5 run to start the second half but only won the third quarter by six points despite double-digit scoring spurts from both Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball. Defensively, the Pelicans stopped nothing on its way to the rim and allowed far too many possessions to run through the back door. In the fourth, the Timberwolves even switched to zone and lived with almost anything New Orleans decided to put up from distance.
With the Pelicans converting only 36 percent on three-point shots and missing eleven important free throw attempts, also seemingly escorting dark blue jerseys inside the paint, it felt as if they mostly played against themselves in an otherwise smooth offensive performance.
“We’re in a situation where we’re trying to win games to stay relevant,“ Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “You can’t win it if you don’t play defense. I’ve tried that way. We’ve tried to do it. We tried it in Phoenix. It doesn’t work. You’ll win games, but if you want to be a team that’s going to be relevant in the playoffs, if you’re fortunate enough to get there, you have to be able to guard.”
Current No. 7 seed Dallas (37-25) is the second half of this early March back-to-back with an 8:30 p.m. tip-off scheduled Wednesday night. Zion Williamson is expected to play consecutive nights for the first time, per Gentry. New Orleans will be looking to avenge its 46-point blowout loss to the Mavericks last time out and avoid the four-game season sweep.