Jan 11, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic (14) is guarded by New Orleans Hornets center Robin Lopez (15) during the first quarter of a game at the New Orleans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Game Recap: Hornets 104, Timberwolves 92

This game should have been a win for the Timberwolves. In fact, if you only watched the first quarter, then you REALLY would have thought it not only should be, but would be a win. An easy win; a walk in the park. But it wasn’t. For as flawless as the Wolves were for the first third of the game, they were nearly as incompetent for the final two-thirds, and quickly went down in flames in the second half.

The Timberwolves had an absolutely fantastic start to the game, with Nikola Pekovic scoring buckets on the Wolves’ first three possessions. After the Hornets were able to knot the game at 9-9, the Wolves went on an impressive 16-0 run, causing the visitors’ lead to balloon to 25-9. Luke Ridnour played as aggressive as he has in weeks, scoring 10 points on 3-3 from the field in the first quarter. The Wolves’ finished the period strong and took a 29-14 lead into the second frame, fueled by an astonishing 18 points in the paint.

Derrick Williams started the second quarter with a series of confident drives to the hoop, scoring in a variety of ways around the rim in a way rarely seen from D-Will. On three consecutive possessions, Williams scored down low, including an old-fashioned three-point play. As the quarter progressed, things started to slip considerably for the Wolves. Minutes by a lineup that included both of the Wolves’ offensively challenged big men, Greg Stiemsma and Lou Amundson, were predictably ugly. A 10-0 run by the Hornets towards the middle of the frame was followed by a 6-0 run to end the half, and Minnesota’s lead was trimmed all the way down to 46-40 at halftime.

The third quarter started all too similarly to how the third quarter ended, with an immediate turnover by Dante Cunningham and a couple of quick baskets by the home team. The Wolves were unable to get some of the bounces off the rim that went their way in the first half, and their defense and rebounding was lackadaisical, to say the least. The Hornets took their first lead since the opening minutes by the score of 55-54. New Orleans continued to push the tempo and hustle to loose balls faster than their counterparts, and were able to continue to push their lead until it reached 70-61 heading into the fourth quarter.

The Wolves entered the fourth quarter needing to keep the game close early and take the home crowd out of the equation, but the opposite happened. The Hornets’ offense became sloppier, but their offensive rebounding the inability of the Wolves to get the ball inside to Pekovic sealed their fate rather quickly.

For some reason, acting head coach Terry Porter left Pekovic on the bench for the meat of the fourth quarter before he re-entered the game with just over five minutes remaining. The lack of an attempt to get the ball to the best player on the floor should haunt the Wolves in the wake of this game. There is simply not enough offensive fire power on this roster with Love, Budinger, and Barea all missing from the team.

The teams traded baskets for the final six minutes of the game while the Wolves tried to remain in striking distance, but their inability to guard Jason Smith and Ryan Anderson on the pick-and-pop game meant that the game was over. Pekovic continued to struggle to get out and contest mid-range jumpers, and Vasquez used his size advantage over Ridnour to his advantage nicely. The Hornets held on nicely and the Wolves wilted, leaving the final score at 104-92.

My Takes:

–  The Wolves destroyed the Hornets in the paint early in the game, but forgot how to get the ball into the post in the second half. This, along with their refusal to play defense and knock down open shots, lead to their quick and hideous demise. It’s a shocking recipe for disaster, I know. But it just happened so fast….

– It will be interesting to see what happens with Derrick Williams’ minutes moving forward, especially in correspondence with Rubio’s inevitable increase in minutes. They play well together, and Williams gains confidence when on the floor with Rubio. The other side of the equation is that with Kevin Love out for another two months, the Wolves need a starting power forward. Cunningham is a very good player, and has been key to the Wolves staying afloat thus far. Realistically, however, he is not a starting power forward in the NBA.

Whenever Rubio joins the starting lineup, Williams should be added as well. A starting lineup of Rubio, Shved, Kirilenko, Williams, and Pekovic would be very fun to watch, and the second unit clearly misses Cunningham’s consistency. He isn’t used to playing such heavy minutes, and swapping him and Williams will be the correct move. It will also provide more of a showcase for Williams, to either let other teams see him play in advance of a potential move, or to help the Wolves’ decide whether or not they will be keeping him moving forward.

– This was a very deflating loss. While New Orleans is finally full strength (at least in the sense that both Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis are back on the floor), the Wolves should still win this game more times than not. Heading into a tough back-to-back in San Antonio and Dallas on Sunday and Monday night, the Wolves needed a win. For the game to start so heavily in the Wolves’ favor and then deteriorate so rapidly, well….it’s tough. To be without so many players and their head coach and to still not have Ricky Rubio near full strength only makes hope for the rest of this season look a lot dimmer.

– Kevin Love’s doctor has been unable to perform surgery on Love’s hand as of yet. Why? He has apparently been injured and/or recovering from surgery himself. Ladies and gentleman, your Minnesota Timberwolves.

– Thoughts and prayers go out to the Adelman family while Rick’s wife, Mary Kay, is in the hospital.

– The Wolves will travel to San Antonio to face a fantastic Spurs squad on Sunday evening at 6:00 p.m.

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Tags: Greivis Vasquez Minnesota Timberwolves NBA News New Orleans Hornets Nikola Pekovic

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