MINNEAPOLIS — The Target Center has become a safe haven for the Minnesota Timberwolves this season and a nightmare for opposing teams.
The New Orleans Pelicans are the next team to try and slow Minnesota’s home-court winning ways.
The Timberwolves have won 11 home games in a row and have the second-most wins at home (21-6) in the NBA this season as they host New Orleans on Saturday.
“We want to make it hard to play here, hard to win here,” Minnesota All-Star guard Jimmy Butler said after Thursday’s 108-89 home win over Milwaukee. “I think we’ve been doing a great job of that as of late. It’s one win. We’ve got another one coming up on Saturday and we need that one too.”
The Target Center has been more than just comfortable confines. It’s helped the Wolves avoid losing streaks.
Seven times this season, Minnesota has lost back-to-back games. Six of those occasions, they’ve returned home from a road trip. With the Target Center as the backdrop, the Wolves haven’t lost three games in a row all season.
Returning from two straight losses on each of its last three trips, Minnesota has won at home by an average of 14.25 points per game.
“That’s a lot on us for being disciplined and having that resiliency as a team, and having that pride, especially here at home,” Wolves All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns said. “We’ve done a great job all year of making sure we stop the bleeding early. Now we just have to focus on making sure we don’t win one, lose two, win one. That’s not a good recipe.”
New Orleans has shown the ability to win on the road, but not in Minnesota. The Pelicans started their trip with a 114-100 win at Oklahoma City on Friday night. New Orleans is now 14-12 on the road, but has lost its only game in Minnesota this season, 116-98 on Jan. 6 in one of the Wolves returns from a road loss.
DeMarcus Cousins scored 23 points and had 15 rebounds on Jan. 6, but he’s out for the rest of the season after rupturing his Achilles tendon. Anthony Davis had 16 points and nine rebounds in the last meeting between the two teams.
Minnesota has won all three meetings this season.
The Pelicans earned their first win since Cousins’ season-ending injury on Friday as Davis had 43 points and 10 rebounds. In the process, Davis became New Orleans’ all-time leading scorer.
Short-handed against the Thunder, the Pelicans should have some help against the Wolves. Forward Nikola Mirotic is expected to make his debut for New Orleans after coming over in a trade from Chicago.
“When you lose a guy like DeMarcus, it’s tough on our team,” Davis told the team’s website. “But we have to keep going. I think the organization went out right away to do something about it, knowing the position we are in, sitting at No. 7 now. We want to make sure we don’t drop, and that we keep progressing as a team.”
Mirotic brings size at 6-foot-10 and shooting. He is averaging career-bests in points per game (16.8), field-goal percentage (47.4), 3-point percentage (42.9) and rebounds (6.4 per game) in his fourth season.
“It takes a little while to settle in and really kind of find your niche, who you are and what you can do in this league,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry told the team’s website. “With (Mirotic), we think he’s on his way to doing that now. He’s been really good shooting the basketball, at a high percentage from three. I think he could be even better at that. Obviously if you’re playing with (Davis), he’s going to open up some shots for you, because he gets double-teamed and triple-teamed sometimes. And (Mirotic) just gives us some size.”