Wolves Beat Hornets, End Four-Game Slide
Minnesota 88, New Orleans/Oklahoma City 69
MINNEAPOLIS, Dec. 21 (Ticker) -- Having tons of trouble with close games, Wally Szczerbiak and the Minnesota Timberwolves began solving their problems with a blowout of the New Orleans Hornets.
Szczerbiak scored 21 points and the Timberwolves used smothering defense to end a four-game losing streak with an 88-69 victory over the Hornets, who were cooled off in a hurry.
Kevin Garnett had 17 points, nine assists and seven rebounds for the Timberwolves, who had their best defensive effort of the season. They stalled rookie sensation Chris Paul and limited the Hornets to just 32.5 percent (27-of-83) from the field.
"This game is a nice building block, defensively and offensively," Minnesota coach Dwane Casey said. "But the difference tonight was defense. They shot 32 percent from the field and better from three than from two."
Minnesota had lost its last four games by a combined 12 points. The first three were by a total of five points, all coming down to the last possession and stalling the momentum of a five-game winning streak.
"We could have easily been 2-2 or 3-1 these last couple games," said Garnett. "I'm just happy that we were able to play four quarters, to be consistent and play with a lot of energy on the defensive end."
Back on their home floor after a three-game trip, the Timberwolves wasted no time in ambushing the Hornets. Szczerbiak and Garnett scored seven points apiece in the first quarter to help open a 26-18 lead.
In the second period, the Wolves held the Hornets to 4-of-21 shooting including forcing 18 straight misses and widened the advantage to 49-30 at halftime. Hornets high-fliers Desmond Mason and J.R. Smith shot a combined 0-of-10 before the break.
"We came out with a sense of urgency in the first quarter," Szczerbiak said. "We have been coming out with a sense of urgency in the third quarter, but we were already 10 points behind. We got back to being aggressive on defense and that carried through. I think our defense was super tonight. Our team defense fueled our offense."
It was more of the same in the third quarter, when Minnesota allowed just 15 points and built its lead to 70-45 entering the final period.
Szczerbiak made 8-of-15 shots as he continued his recent scoring spree. He has scored at least 20 points in six straight games and is averaging 26.9 points in his last nine contests.
"It took a while to learn this offense, seeing what 'Case' wants from us," Garnett said. "But (Wally) has it grasped now, and he's playing really well."
Rookie Rashad McCants scored 14 points and Marko Jaric added 10 for the Wolves, who held a 47-37 rebounding edge as they beat the Hornets for the eighth time in nine meetings.
"McCants had some good matchups tonight," Casey said. "For a rookie, he has to earn everything in this league, and he has done a good job of earning. He's earned every inch of it by working hard in practice, and tonight it paid off for him."
Paul scored 15 points but made just 5-of-16 shots. Mason made 1-of-9 shots and Smith 1-of-6.
"I thought the effort was lacking (tonight)," Hornets coach Byron Scott said. "We didn't play as hard as we have in the past four or five games, and we shot the ball poorly."
The Hornets had beaten first-place teams San Antonio and the Los Angeles Clippers earlier this week and were looking to do the same to Minnesota, which leads the Northwest Division. Instead, they were held to their lowest total of the season.
"I thought that after a couple of good games earlier this week, we were headed in the right direction," said Scott. "A group of young guys, they fooled me. I guarantee I won't let it happen again."