NEW ORLEANS – The Timberwolves, who embarked on a three-game trip on Tuesday still hoping to chase down Denver for a final playoff spot, flew home Sunday night after a 123-109 loss at New Orleans with their aspirations and spirit in tatters.
Not long after they had won seven of 11 games largely by holding opponents to fewer than 100 points, the Wolves went home from Boston, Miami and New Orleans winless, after they allowed 117 points once and 123 points twice.
“It’s the way it is now,” Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns said. “We can’t go back and change it. We came in with a lot of confidence and coming out of a road trip like this with no wins, it’s rough. We’re fighting for our lives. It seems like the last three games we’re going up there with the knife at our own throats.”
The Wolves lost a 13-point second-quarter lead, and the game, after they allowed the first half’s final six points. Then, after leading 54-48 at halftime, they surrendered 75 second-half points.
They now trail the Nuggets by five with 13 games left — and eight of those games will be played on the road.
“Our hopes were high, we were playing well, but on this road trip we played like we did at the beginning of the season, like we don’t care,” said Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio, whose saw his streak of 20-point games end at four but finished with 10 points and 14 assists. “It’s a shame that we get three games like that, seeming like it’s not important when they were the most important we played all season.”
The Wolves limited Pelicans All-Star Anthony Davis basically to his season averages — 28 points and 12 rebounds — after he scored 45 points and 42 points the first two times these teams played. But it mattered not, after former 10-day contract signee Jordan Crawford scored eight consecutive fourth-quarter points on the way to a 23-point night.
The Pelicans used a 22-7 run early in the third quarter to turn an eight-point deficit into a seven-point lead — from 63-55 Wolves to 77-70 Pelicans — in less than 3 ½ minutes, and the Wolves never pulled back to even again, after they allowed runs of 10-2 early in the fourth and 21-10 to finish the game.
“You get what you deserve in this league,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “The game is in the balance, you have a chance to win in the fourth and you let go of the rope and that’s what happens. So there’s not much fight.”
Only nine days earlier, the Wolves had beaten the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State in back-to-back home games, and Denver loomed only 2 ½ games away in the standings. Now Portland, Dallas and New Orleans all reside between them and the Nuggets.
“It doesn’t take much to change it,” Thibodeau said. “Things can change, and they change quickly in this league. They can go from good to bad and go from bad to good, but you’ve got to make it change. It’s not going to change by itself, so we’ve got to get it right.”
Not that long ago, the Wolves held Sacramento to 88 points, playoff-bound Utah to 80 and the Clippers to 91. They also held San Antonio to 97 points in an overtime loss and won four of five games in that stretch.
“Just frustrating right now,” Rubio said. “After starting the season the way we did, we came back and played good as a team and suddenly, we forget how to do it. The last three, four games, we care about ourselves more than we did the team and that’s how we go, losing games. … It’s not acceptable.”