MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Timberwolves were in unfamiliar territory.
They were in control at halftime with a big lead.
“I was really nervous,” said coach Rick Adelman, drawing some laughter after the Timberwolves routed the New Orleans Hornets 115-86 on Saturday.
The veteran coach wasn’t smiling, though. A night earlier, he watched his team nearly rally from 29 points down at halftime before losing to the L.A. Lakers at home.
“I’ve seen it happen too many times. The Lakers were up 29 on us, it just takes a spurt,” Adelman said.
This time though, the Wolves — who’ve lost eight times this season when leading or being tied after three quarters — finished off the victory.
Dante Cunningham scored a season-high 18 points, Nikola Pekovic added 14 and the Timberwolves stopped their six-game losing streak.
Cunningham hit all nine of his shots to set a franchise record for most consecutive field goals without a miss.
“To have a blowout win is something that our team needed at this point,” Luke Ridnour said. “Hopefully we can build on it.”
Anthony Davis scored 18 points for the Hornets, who played without Eric Gordon and finished their five-game road trip with four straight losses. Team doctors still haven’t cleared Gordon to play in back-to-back games while recovering from knee surgery.
Gordon played 25 minutes at Denver on Friday, and the Hornets badly missed their star shooting guard’s energy. A night after committing 22 turnovers, New Orleans turned it over 23 times against the Wolves, who earned their largest victory margin this season.
“It’s not the end of the world,” Greivis Vasquez said. “But we’ve got to regroup, better ourselves and get back home and get a win and try to get out of this slump.”
One of the worst-shooting teams in the NBA, the Timeberwolves shot 58 percent (45 for 77) using a simple plan: Get to the paint. Minnesota went hard to the basket — 15 of its scoring possessions in the first quarter were either drives or free throws. The Timberwolves led 33-14 after one, and their lead was never seriously threatened.
Ricky Rubio, who took the blame for Minnesota’s lackluster start in the 111-100 loss to the Lakers, set an aggressive tone early by driving to the basket and finding open teammates.
“It’s easier to do it when you’re up by 20 you know,” Rubio said. “But I felt pretty good today and like I said, I started finding my rhythm and my shot and being aggressive.”
The biggest highlight came late in the third quarter, when Rubio lobbed an alley-oop to Cunningham for a two-handed jam that stretched the Wolves’ lead to 74-46 and brought the crowd to its feet.
“It’s great for the crowd sometimes, some of the plays he makes,” Adelman said. “But he just has to make good plays, not great plays all the time. I think that’s one thing we have to learn to do.”
Rubio had nine points and seven assists, and Minnesota outscored the Hornets 58-32 in the paint.
“Anytime you come out and allow a team to play the game that easily, you look right at the coach, and for whatever reason, I wasn’t sharp tonight,” Hornets coach Monty Williams said. “I didn’t have the guys ready to play and we got embarrassed tonight. That’s something that is unacceptable.”
NOTES: New Orleans is 8-7 when Gordon plays and 7-26 in games he’s missed. “It’s tough when you have a guy who can put up 20 points and you’ve got to sit him,” Williams said before the game. Much like Williams has done with Gordon this season, Adelman has had to limit Rubio since returning from knee surgery. “I understand the deal with Rubio,” Williams said. “He’s such a great young player that you don’t want to damage him for the future.” Adelman, though, joked that he didn’t believe early reports that Gordon wouldn’t play. “I’m just very pessimistic at this point,” he said. “He’ll probably play 40 minutes.” … The Hornets are 9-4 in their past 13 against Minnesota. … The Hornets matched their season low of 14 first-quarter points, which previously came against the Wolves on Jan. 11.
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