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Pelicans Run Away From Wolves Down The Stretch

It was a tremendous start — and likely just the start coach Flip Saunders was looking for after a lackadaisical effort from his team two nights ago.

Minnesota just couldn’t keep its foot on the gas in the 92-84 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night at Target Center.

Though the Wolves started the matchup on an 11-1 run, they let the lead slip away late in the first frame and never regained control.

New Orleans failed to impose its will in the contest, never leading by more than a few buckets on that night. That said it never truly felt like its lead was jeopardy because every time Minnesota got close, a layup here, or a jumper there would stymie a comeback attempt.

“We’d play two bad minutes and the lead would go from two to eight,” Saunders said. “We played even for 42 minutes and had a few bad stretches in that time that gave them a boost.”

Anthony Davis paced the Pelicans with 21 points and 12 boards while Eric Gordon poured in 20 points.

A lone bright spot for the Wolves was the fact that both Gorgui Dieng and Nikola Pekovic had big nights while playing together. Dieng finished with 14 points and 15 rebounds and Pekovic had 13 points and 9 boards.

“They’re both quality players and the biggest thing is whether we’re going to play them together,” Saunders said. “That’s something we’ll have to work on over time.”

Pekovic said plays were simpler when he was playing next to Dieng on the court. They both play similarly so a bulk of the plays appeared to focus on a single side of the court.

In the final frame the Wolves pulled within a single possession on a few different occasions — to no avail. A late charge called on Pekovic essentially halted further thoughts of a comeback as the Pelicans firmly pulled away.

Saunders said he’d likely limit Pekovic’s minutes moving forward, though he looked good in a little more than 20 minutes of action against New Orleans.

“It definitely opened up the floor for the rest of us,” Wiggins said of Pekovic’s presence. “As soon as he stepped on the court it was all eyes on him. He’s a big impact and teams have to play him hard.”

Wiggins himself had an off game finishing with 13 points on 6-for-16 shooting.

“I think he’s physically and mentally just worn,” Saunders said. “I think he’s hit the rookie wall here a little bit and he has to find a way to go right through it. He has to find a soft spot in the wall.”

While the team has now lost 10 straight games at Target Center, Saunders said he doesn’t want his team to focus on the losses. 

“We’ve just got to keep on playing and playing the right way and focus on getting better,” he said. “We’re beyond looking at the amount of losses and everything else.”

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LEADER OF THE PACK

Gorgui Dieng recorded double-double No. 11 in the loss to New Orleans. Dieng, who has shown a lot more skill in the post as of late, finished with 14 points and 15 boards in the game. He also matched up with Anthony Davis for most of the night and held the big fella to a modest 21 points and 12 rebounds — both below the season average for Davis. 

HIGHLIGHT OF THE GAME 

A hot start from the Wolves saw them jump out to an 11-1 lead before they started to cool off and the Pelicans started to heat up. Thaddeus Young was the catalyst throughout that stretch, while Gorgui Dieng also chipped in with a couple buckets. Minnesota couldn’t sustain the pressure after the early outburst, and ultimately, let the lead slip away for good.

NUMBERS GAME 

-- Minnesota started the game on an impressive 11-1 run to take an early lead over New Orleans. Thaddeus Young started 3-for-3 from the field, while Gorgui Dieng was 2-for-2 to pace the squad early on.

-- New Orleans quickly cut into that deficit and by the end of the frame led the Wolves 24-20. Eric Gordon netted 9 points to lead the Pelicans.

-- Though they fell behind early in the game, the Pelicans shot 58.8 percent in the first half to get back into the matchup. That said the Wolves hung around and only trailed New Orleans 45-44 at the break.

-- Gorgui Dieng has been a revelation for Minnesota this season and now has 11 double-doubles this year. He finished with 14 points and 15 rebounds in the loss to the Pelicans.

-- Minnesota passed well throughout the contest en route to assisting on 27 of its 35 buckets. Mo Williams led the way with 10 assists for the Wolves. In contrast the Pelicans assisted on 17 of 40 buckets.

LOOKING AHEAD

Minnesota will hit the road Saturday in preparation for a matchup with the red hot Atlanta Hawks. That will not be an easy contest by any means as the Hawks have proven to be one of the best teams in the NBA. Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer has that team playing extremely efficiently as the team has earned the moniker: the San Antonio Spurs of the Eastern Conference.

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