Karl-Anthony Towns had 27 points and a career-high 27 rebounds to help the Minnesota Timberwolves hold off Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans for a 110-106 victory on Saturday night that was the first at home for interim head coach Ryan Saunders.
Towns swished a 3-pointer to make it 106-103 with 2:55 left, giving the Timberwolves the lead for good. Then he blocked a 3-point try by Davis on the other end, triggering a fast break that Tyus Jones finished with a layup.
Davis had 30 points and 14 rebounds for his 13th consecutive double-double. Jrue Holiday added 25 points and seven assists for the Pelicans, who pulled within 108-106 on Holiday’s three-point play with 2:23 remaining.
But Towns blocked another 3-point attempt by Davis with 1:37 left that would have put the Pelicans in front, and the Timberwolves took it from there. Jones and Dario Saric each added 14 points on 2-for-3 shooting from 3-point range off the bench to help offset a 7-for-33 performance behind the arc by the rest of the team.
This was a critical game for the Wolves, coming off a four-point loss to Dallas here the night before and facing some serious catching up to do in the relentless Western Conference race in order to return to the playoffs. The Mavericks, Pelicans and Wolves all entered the evening tied for 11th place, 2½ games below the cut.
The Wolves played without second-leading scorer Derrick Rose, who has missed all three games against the Pelicans this season, for precaution on the second of the back-to-back nights because of his return on Friday from a six-game absence to a sprained right ankle.
The Pelicans brought a similar urgency, beginning a stretch of five straight road games against Western Conference foes. They had losing streaks of four, five and six straight games over the first half of their schedule, slumps that will loom large down the stretch.
Pelicans: Julius Randle had his 21st double-double of the season, with 22 points and 11 rebounds. … E’Twaun Moore (bruised left quadriceps) returned from a two-game absence but had only two points on 1-for-6 shooting in 31 minutes.
Timberwolves: Jeff Teague had two points and 10 assists in 21 minutes but spent the fourth quarter on the bench after appearing to aggravate his ankle injury. … Luol Deng played for the first time in 13 games and just the fifth time all season, with an appearance in the second quarter.
BIG BLUE BIG MEN
These New Orleans-Minnesota matchups since Towns entered the league three seasons ago, and into the future so long as Davis remains with the Pelicans, have frequently featured two of the NBA’s best big men in a prolific new-school duel unfolding primarily in the low post but sometimes on the perimeter, too.
They were both first overall picks in the draft, too, three years apart from the professional basketball player factory at Kentucky under coach John Calipari. Whether or not Davis and Towns actually play with more intensity against each other is difficult to gauge, of course, but their lines in the box score are almost always full.
“I’m sure Cal uses this as a recruiting tool,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said, “but you’re playing against great Kentucky players every night in this league so it’s not a big deal to those guys.”
Over their first five meetings in Minnesota, Towns averaged 25.2 points and 13.8 rebounds against New Orleans. Davis averaged 30.4 points and 10 rebounds.
Pelicans: Face the Clippers in Los Angeles on Monday.
Timberwolves: Play at Philadelphia on Tuesday, their first game against the 76ers since All-Star Jimmy Butler was traded there two months ago. The Wolves are 17-13 since the deal.