Minnesota Timberwolves center Al Jefferson and Indiana Pacers point guard T. J. Ford each delivered one of their best performances of the season in their most recent games. Neither player, though, could carry his team to a victory.
Jefferson looks to continue his hot streak and help the Timberwolves snap a three-game skid Tuesday night when they visit Ford and the Pacers, hoping to bounce back from their first loss in eight home contests.
Minnesota (16-30) won 10 of its first 12 games in January, showing dramatic improvement after finishing December at 6-25. Jefferson carried the team during its surge, and while he hasn’t let up, the Timberwolves didn’t fare well in a just-completed stretch of three games against contenders.
Minnesota closed January with consecutive home losses to Detroit and the Western Conference-leading Los Angeles Lakers before falling 109-101 at Boston on Sunday.
Jefferson took advantage of the absence of Kevin Garnett - for whom he was traded - to record 34 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots, connecting on 15 of his 21 field-goal attempts against his former team.
Jefferson has scored more than 30 points six times since Dec. 20 and reached that mark in consecutive games for the first time in his career.
“To come in here and do what I did today against a team like that - even with KG out, it’s still a great defensive team - it means a lot,” said Jefferson, fifth in the league with 26 double-doubles.
Jefferson was left off the Western Conference All-Star team, but that’s not a concern for Timberwolves coach Kevin McHale, who envisions a bright future for the budding star.
“He’s coming along great. If you’re not better at 24 than you were at 21, then you’ve got issues,” McHale said. “I told Al that he’s going to make many All-Star games, and he’s going to take the place of some 17-year-old when he doesn’t deserve it.”
Ford has never made an All-Star team, and that won’t change this season. The 6-foot point guard, though, has been delivering for the Pacers (19-29) lately. He scored a career-high 36 points while going 14-for-23 from the field in a 122-113 loss to New York on Saturday night.
Ford, who’s scored more than 30 points four times in a career that’s spanned six seasons, has done it twice in his last three games.
“I will have looks, and I will try to make them when I get them,” said Ford, shooting 58.5 percent (31-for-53) over his last three games. “This also helps open up other shots for other teammates.”
The Pacers’ problem Saturday, however, was at the other end of the court. They allowed the Knicks to shoot 48.9 percent from the field - 44.1 percent (15-for-34) from 3-point range - and gave up at least 120 points for the ninth time this season.
“We got out of the gate slow and could never get the game in our control,” Ford said. “We were not even close. This was a time when we played very poor stretch defense and you can’t win games that way.”
The defeat snapped Indiana’s seven-game winning streak at Conseco Fieldhouse, where it’s 7-2 all-time against Minnesota. Pacers All-Star forward Danny Granger scored 32 points in a 124-113 home win over the Wolves on Dec. 21, 2007.
Jefferson was held to 11 points in that game.