NEW ORLEANS — The 4-3 Minnesota Timberwolves displayed calm under fire recently, winning their past two games over the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat by three points each.
The 3-4 New Orleans Pelicans would rather forget about a 115-99 home drubbing at the hands of the Orlando Magic on Monday in which they showed little effort and no firepower, scoring just 35 points in the second half.
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When the teams meet Wednesday night at the Smoothie King Center, the Timberwolves will be looking to avenge a three-game regular-season sweep by the Pelicans last year.
With Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague adding firepower and experience, Minnesota certainly is showing signs of professionalism down the stretch, going 4-0 in one-possession games this season. The Timberwolves were 7-13 last year in one-possession games.
Teague, in particular, was spectacular in the 125-122 overtime victory at Miami, running the show with 11 assists and scoring 23 points to go along with six steals. He also made 3 of 5 from 3-point range. Teague is averaging 19.3 points, 9.0 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 2.7 steals, and he is lighting it up from deep, shooting 54 percent.
“He was terrific,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I thought he had us organized. He and (Andrew Wiggins) have developed great chemistry.”
Teague got off to a slow start in the season’s first two games, but in Minnesota’s past two wins, he averaged 20 points, 10.5 assists and 4.5 rebounds and made 5 of 10 from behind the arc.
“When Jeff is playing like that, we’re always going to be at another level,” center Karl-Anthony Towns said.
On Tuesday, Pelicans center DeMarcus Cousins took the fall for New Orleans’ flat performance against the Magic. Cousins came into the game averaging 36.3 points, 16.0 rebounds and 6.3 assists a game, and he was named the Western Conference Player of the Week on the strength of his efforts in helping the Pelicans win two of three games.
However, Cousins was held to 12 points on 5-of-14 shooting against Orlando. Ten of those points came during a 40-point second quarter, but Cousins was barely heard from the rest of the game.
The Pelicans were outscored 55-35 in the second half by Orlando.
“It’s like one of those nights,” he said Tuesday at practice. “Defensively, we just weren’t there mentally. Let’s just say (our) actions looked like a defeated team. I kind of take the blame for that. My energy was off emotionally, and that energy the team was used to having, I wasn’t there. We talked about it. We’re aware of our mistakes, and we’ll have a better showing next game.”
New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry was understandably upset by his team’s lack of effort against Orlando.
“We sucked,” he said. “I wish there was another way to put it. We didn’t close out shooters, they drove the ball any time they wanted to. It was lack of effort. We have to establish consistency. We’re not going to be a good team until every night we know what we’re going to get.”
This is the first of four games between the two teams. As New Orleans went 3-0 against Minnesota last year, Anthony Davis averaged 38.3 points on 66.7 percent shooting with 11.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.0 steals. Jrue Holiday averaged 17.7 points on 52.6 percent shooting with 9.0 assists. In three games against the Timberwolves last season — two while playing with Sacramento — Cousins averaged 25.3 points and 8.3 rebounds.
Towns led Minnesota in the three matchups, scoring 26.0 points and grabbing 8.3 rebounds per game, and Wiggins averaged 22.3 points.