The New Orleans Pelicans and the Minnesota Timberwolves are coming off subpar performances in advance of their return engagement on Monday night in Minneapolis.
The Timberwolves, however, forced a franchise-record 30 turnovers against New Orleans and escaped with a 96-89 victory on Saturday to stay unbeaten in two games this season. The Pelicans are off to an 0-3 start.
“I feel like for my years here we’ve always really relied on how many points we can score in one night,” said Minnesota center Karl-Anthony Towns, who had 25 points before fouling out with more than six minutes remaining and earned a technical foul on his way out.
“These are the kind of nights (when) you need to fall back on something else. Our offense wasn’t clicking the way we would like it to, but our defense was and it gave us a chance,” Towns said.
The Wolves held New Orleans to 34.8 percent shooting, including 22.5 percent on 3-pointers (9 of 40), which helped them overcome their own 20 turnovers and poor shooting (40.6 percent).
“Defense has carried us the last two games,” said Wolves coach Chris Finch, whose team opened the season with a 124-106 home victory over Houston on Wednesday. “I think that’s a great step for this team.”
On Saturday, Minnesota mustered enough offense for an 11-1 run to start the fourth quarter that gave them an 80-68 lead. Guard Jordan McLaughlin, who had not played in the first three quarters, had six points, two steals and two rebounds while playing the entire final period.
“He stayed ready the whole game, and he was really the difference maker in a lot of ways,” Finch said of McLaughlin. “He got us going out there on the offensive end.”
New Orleans never got going on their offensive end, though Brandon Ingram scored a game-high 30 points and Jonas Valanciunas added 20. Devonte’ Graham went 2 for 14 from the field, including 1 for 10 on 3-pointers, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker was 6 for 24, including 2 for 13 on 3-pointers.
The Pelicans committed 17 of their turnovers in the first half as they made just 15 field goals and trailed by 13 points.
“We’re just shooting ourselves in the foot,” said first-year coach Willie Green, whose team committed 17 turnovers and yielded 24 fast-break points in a loss at Chicago on Friday. “We have to keep the game simple. Come down, run our offense. In transition, keep the game simple. When we do, we get really great shots, quality shots.”
New Orleans made a couple of runs in the second half on Saturday, but could never catch up. It couldn’t sustain any offensive momentum because of the turnovers.
“You can’t win games like that,” Graham said. “We keep saying it every game. It’s kind of like beating a dead horse. We were in the game. That’s the craziest part about it. Even if you cut those turnovers in half, we could be up 15 points.
“We obviously keep saying the same thing: We have to take care of the ball. We have to take care of the ball. Until then, we have to live with our mistakes,” Graham said.
The Pelicans also have to live with the absence of forward Zion Williamson (foot surgery), who’s out indefinitely, and wing Josh Hart (quad), who’s day-to-day.