MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—When Al Jefferson walked on to the floor against New Orleans on Friday night, his eyes grew wide and he knew he was in for a big night.
The Hornets were playing without their two best interior defenders—Tyson Chandler and David West—and were left with only Melvin Ely and Ryan Bowen to defend one of the best young post players in the game.
If it sounds like a mismatch, it was.
Jefferson had 24 points and 14 rebounds and Minnesota controlled the paint in a 116-108 victory over the Hornets.
“They had their big guys out, so we knew to attack the basket,” Jefferson said. “Guys did a good job attacking the basket.”
Randy Foye had 24 points and eight assists and Rodney Carney scored 12 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter for Minnesota. The Timberwolves scored 52 points in the paint against the league’s best post defense and held a 42-26 rebounding advantage to improve to 8-2 this month, tied with Orlando for best in the NBA.
James Posey had 24 points and tied a career high with seven 3-pointers for New Orleans. Chris Paul added 23 points and 12 assists. New Orleans was able to overcome the absences of Chandler (left ankle) and West (back) down low against New Jersey on Wednesday, but not on this night.
New Orleans entered the game allowing 34.1 points in the paint per game, the fewest in the league. But Minnesota had 28 in the first half alone and outscored New Orleans 20-9 in second-chance points.
“It showed we missed our two big guys,” Hornets coach Byron Scott said. “They just killed us on the boards. They were much more physical than we were.”
Paul ran the pick-and-roll to devastating perfection in the first three quarters. When he wasn’t knifing to the basket for layups and fouls, Paul was dishing to center Sean Marks, who hit all five of his field goals in the first half.
New Orleans shot 56 percent and led by as many as 12 points in the first half, and had an 81-79 lead going into the fourth. But the Hornets lost for just the second time in 26 games when they’ve either led or been tied going to the fourth quarter.
Marks missed all four of his shots the rest of the way and the Wolves put a lid on Paul in the fourth.
“They killed us on the boards,” said Hornets forward Morris Peterson, who scored all eight of his points in the first half. “A lot of times when you get beat that bad on rebounding you give up second chance points and you get less chances to score. When you take those two factors in it was a tough one for us.”
Carney opened the final period with a jumper and a 3-pointer, then had a thunderous dunk and another 3 in an 8-0 run that put the Wolves up for good with 4:45 left.
Looking like the big-shot maker he was for the Celtics during their run to the title last year, Posey hit three 3-pointers in the fourth to keep the Hornets in it.
The last one cut Minnesota’s lead to 101-99 with 3:31 to play, but Foye responded with two huge 3-pointers in the final two minutes to put the game away.
“The biggest thing is (Posey) made those shots, but we still didn’t keep our heads down,” Foye said. “We kept playing. We got back on defense. We scored on them. And then we stopped them.”
As part of their ongoing celebration marking the franchise’s 20th anniversary, the Timberwolves welcomed back PG Pooh Richardson, the franchise’s first draft pick in 1989. … Peja Stojakovic had 17 points for New Orleans and Marks finished with 10. … The Wolves had six players in double figures, including rookie Kevin Love, who had 11 points and five rebounds. “He was eating glass in the fourth quarter,” Wolves coach Kevin McHale said.