MINNEAPOLIS (AP)The New Orleans Pelicans have perked up since the debut of Zion Williamson.
The presence of Jrue Holiday, though, can’t be discounted in their improvement.
Holiday just missed his second triple-double against Minnesota in less than a week, putting up a season-high 37 points and adding nine rebounds and eight assists for the Pelicans in a 120-107 victory over the Timberwolves on Sunday.
”Jrue was incredible today. These performances from him have been coming a lot lately,” said Williamson, who scored 23 points on 9-for-15 shooting. ”It was one of those games where, we need a bucket to get the momentum back, he was there.”
Lonzo Ball had 18 points and eight assists, and Brandon Ingram pitched in 15 points and 12 rebounds to help the Pelicans start a four-game trip with the victory.
Malik Beasley had 21 points and nine rebounds, and D’Angelo Russell scored 19 points for the Timberwolves. They got 42 points from their reserves.
Still harboring an outside shot at the playoffs, the Pelicans passed Portland for 10th place in the Western Conference and pulled within four games of eighth-place Memphis with Sacramento in ninth place. The Pelicans are 11-7 over their last 20 games and have won 15 of their last 18 games against opponents with losing records.
Even the defense has enjoyed an uptick following Williamson’s debut after the super-sized, super-skilled rookie missed more than half of the season recovering from knee surgery. New Orleans held the Timberwolves to 22 fewer points than in its 139-134 defeat at home five days ago. Holiday had 27 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists in that game. This was his fourth 30-point performance of the season. In three matchups with the Wolves this season, he’s averaging more than 27 points.
”When they made their push, we got stops, and we got some big stops, and the momentum shift went the other way,” Holiday said. ”We didn’t want to happen what happened last time.”
Williamson’s first appearance in Minnesota and the matinee tipoff time contributing to a sellout crowd of 18,978, the two highest-scoring teams in the NBA over the four-plus-week span since the trade deadline on Feb. 6 did not disappoint for action.
Williamson took all of 16 seconds to assert himself, bullishly driving into the lane with little impediment on the first possession and throwing down a two-handed slam. The 19-year-old and first overall pick in the draft had four dunks in the first 7 1/2 minutes of the game, including two off perfect lob passes from Ball that came during a 21-4 spurt by the Pelicans covering barely more than four minutes. The first alley-oop from Ball traveled almost three-quarters of the court.
The Wolves surged right back with a 17-3 run. Just a half-minute later, Jake Layman’s soaring slam over Derrick Favors had the players on the bench beside themselves with glee.
”It was a great pass by D-Lo, and I knew I could beat Zion off the dribble,” Layman said. ”But the loss is more what I’m thinking about right now.”
The Wolves were tied halfway through the second quarter, but they were never able to get in front and fell behind by as many as 20 points after halftime. They finished just 8 for 33 from long range.
”We got a lot of great looks. It happens in the NBA, but we can’t let that dictate the whole game. We’ve got to make sure we defend still,” Beasley said.
Russell is shooting just 32.9% over his last five games – 28 for 85.
”It’s a part of the game. Just let it go, and I’ll be all right,” Russell said.
Williamson’s arrival has been a big lift for the entire team, let alone the league, but the player who has benefited the most has been Ball. The third-year point guard, who was part of the package from the Lakers in the deal that sent Anthony Davis to Los Angeles, has sent 34% of his assists to Williamson. The next-closest teammate is Ingram at, entering the game, 15%.
”He carried us all night. No letdown from him today. You could see from start to finish he was definitely determined to get this win,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said.
Pelicans: Williamson became the first player to score 20-plus points in at least 16 of his first 20 career games, according to ESPN research, since Michael Jordan in the 1984-85 season for Chicago. … J.J. Redick sat out for the fifth straight game due to a strained left hamstring. … Two-way rookie Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who has not played for New Orleans in nearly a month, was diagnosed on Saturday with a hairline fracutre in his right wrist and will be out indefinitely.
Timberwolves: Beasley has hit the 20-point mark in nine of 13 games with Minnesota. … Rookie Kelan Martin was inactive with a sprained left ankle. … The Wolves are 9-19 without Karl-Anthony Towns (.321 winning percentage) this season and 10-25 with him (.286).
Pelicans: Play at Sacramento on Wednesday night. They face the Kings again at home on March 22, between matchups with current eighth-place-holder Memphis. They don’t play Portland anymore.
Timberwolves: Start a six-game trip at Houston on Tuesday night.
More AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports