Howard, Hornets down Timberwolves
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Suddenly, the Charlotte Hornets are playing the way coach Steve Clifford always envisioned.
The Hornets dominated the fourth quarter to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 118-102 on Monday night at the Spectrum Center, and Clifford couldn’t have been happier.
“That was maybe the best game we’ve played this year, maybe by a lot actually,” Clifford said. “The turnovers in the first half and one bad defensive stretch in the second quarter were really the only issues, but in terms of balance, offense and defense, I’d say that’s the best game we’ve played by quite a bit.”
Dwight Howard had a huge game with 25 points and 20 rebounds, and Frank Kaminsky came off the bench to score 24 points, including nine early in the fourth quarter when the Hornets took control of the game for good.
There were 14 ties and 20 lead changes in the first three quarters, but the Hornets outscored the Timberwolves 34-22 in the fourth quarter and once led by as many as 17.
The Hornets (7-9) had snapped a six-game losing streak with a 102-87 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday night, and at that time Clifford said he thought that might have been the team’s best performance of the season.
“I think we’ve just played the sixth- and seventh-best offenses in the league the last two games, and they were two of the best defensive games we’ve had,” Clifford said.
“So what’s that tell you? We’ve gotten some of our better defensive players back from injuries and they’re getting back into form. It’s what we’re capable of.”
Howard was 8 of 10 from the field and a surprising 9 of 14 from the free throw line. Kaminsky was 9 of 15 from the field and 4 of 5 from 3-point range.
For Howard, it was the 49th time in his 14-year career that he has had at least 20 points and 20 rebounds in a game.
“I just thank God for good health and the ability to get out and play the best that I can,” Howard said. “When we were going through that little stretch where we were losing games, I just kept telling myself, ‘I’ve just got to go out there and have fun. I have the best job in the world, supported by the best fans in the world. Just go out there and have fun no matter what happens. Make or miss, enjoy yourself, enjoy the game.’ And good things happened.”
The Hornets also got 17 points from Nicolas Batum, 16 from Jeremy Lamb, 14 from Kemba Walker and 10 from Cody Zeller. Clifford also had high praise for the defense of Michael Carter-Williams. The Timberwolves shot just 41.1 percent from the field and were 7 of 26 in the decisive fourth quarter.
The Timberwolves (10-7) lost their second game in two nights.
Jamal Crawford came off the bench to lead the Timberwolves with 19 points. Karl-Anthony Towns finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds, but he was thoroughly dominated by Howard and only padded his stats after the game was out of reach.
Jeff Teague also scored 18 points, Jimmy Butler was held to 14 and Andrew Wiggins finished with 11.
“You know, I thought the rebounding got us probably more than anything,” Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said, citing a 52-38 Charlotte rebound edge. “A four-point game going into the fourth. And you’ve got to be at your best in the fourth, and the last two nights we haven’t been.”
Crawford noted that the Timberwolves could have been tired from playing three games in four days.
“It was tough,” Crawford said. “You don’t ever want to make excuses and obviously we have work to do and we’re still a work in progress. We’re a long way from being where we will be. But I think that’s a good thing. We have something to work toward.”
NOTES: This was the second and final game between the teams this season. The Timberwolves won 112-94 in Minneapolis on Nov. 5. ... The Hornets were without G Julyan Stone (strained left hamstring). ... The Timberwolves were without C Justin Patton (left foot surgery). ... The Timberwolves were playing their third back-to-back of the season. They lost to Detroit 100-97 on Sunday. ... Coming into the game, the Hornets had attempted 130 more free throws than their opponents this season, and the Timberwolves had attempted 118 more than their opponents. That makes them 1-2 in the NBA. Charlotte wound up attempting 29 free throws Monday to Minnesota’s 26. ... Timberwolves G Jamal Crawford came into the game leading the league in free-throw percentage, shooting .966 (28 of 29). He was 6 of 6 against the Hornets. ... This was a brief one-game trip for the Timberwolves. They return home to face Orlando on Wednesday, starting a four-game homestand. ... The Hornets were playing the second game of a three-game homestand. They will host Washington on Wednesday.