NEW ORLEANS — It was a pounding in the paint, and the Minnesota Timberwolves gave new meaning to the term “tip drill” while defeating the Hornets on Friday night at New Orleans Arena.
With center Nikola Pekovic scoring a season-high 31 points, the Timberwolves had 70 points in the lane and 24 on second-chance points as they raced past the Hornets 113-102.
The points also were a season high for Minnesota.
“They attacked us in the lane, and we played a passive style of basketball,” Hornets coach Monty Williams said. “Pekovic was dominant. He just dominated our bigs. Our defense isn’t even close to what we’re used to around here. We’ve got to find out who is willing to fight for this organization.”
It was the sixth consecutive loss for the Hornets (5-17), and it came after an encouraging road performance against defending Western Conference champion Oklahoma City.
The Hornets were without backup center Jason Smith, who may miss up to two weeks with a sprained right shoulder.
The Timberwolves (11-9) broke open the game in the fourth quarter, scoring all 12 of their baskets in the lane. The rest of their 31 points came on free throws. Minnesota scored on 10 consecutive possessions before a late turnover.
It was the sixth win in eight games for Minnesota.
For the Hornets, the defeat came with a four-game road trip set to begin Sunday at Portland. Pekovic and forwards Andrei Kirilekno and Kevin Love made for a relentless attack at the rim, combining for 66 points and 25 rebounds. The Timberwolves outrebounded the Hornets 40-30.
“(Pekovic) is a load when he gets the ball down low,” Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said.
Said Hornets forward Ryan Anderson: “They’re strong in the paint. They have some big guys. They play great down low.”
The loss offset a career-high 27 points by rookie guard Austin Rivers. His previous career high was 15 against Memphis on Dec. 7.
Minnesota took control in the third quarter but didn’t make it a rout until about four minutes remained. With quick backup point guard J.J. Barea leading the pick-and-roll, they outscored the Hornets 10-2 for a 109-93 lead.
“We were close for a while, but Ridnour hit a couple of 3s, and they started to break it open,” Williams said. “It’s unfortunate. We needed this win right before we hit this road trip.”
Having had a feisty first half, the Hornets came out smoking at the start of the third quarter. Anderson, who finished with 20 points, hit a 3-pointer, and Robin Lopez’s jumper gave New Orleans a 55-50 lead. But point guard Luke Ridnour and Kirilekno got baskets, and Pekovic outran Lopez for a layup and a 59-57 lead.
Ridnour and guard Alexey Shved sank consecutive 3s for a 65-62 advantage. Then Pekovic resumed his heavy lifting at the rim over Lopez and Anthony Davis, scoring on four power moves from 5:10 to the 12-second mark. In between, Kirilinko was sneaking backdoor for lobs, and Ridnour and Shved each dropped in a 3. It was 82-73 at the end of three, with neither team playing well on defense.
Trailing by five points after the first quarter, the Hornets nonetheless faced an uphill battle in the second quarter. With Rivers getting 19 points, already a new high, the Hornets battled back from 40-31 to a 50-50 tie at halftime.