Timberwolves blast Pelicans in Mitchell's final game
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Sam Mitchell smiled and laughed with his young Minnesota Timberwolves one last time, reveling in one of the few easy victories his team has had in its home building.
The injury ravaged New Orleans Pelicans took another one on the chin and couldn't wait to turn the page on a most disappointing season.
Karl-Anthony Towns had 28 points and 14 rebounds and the Timberwolves sent Mitchell out in style with a 144-109 victory over the Pelicans in the season finale Wednesday night.
Gorgui Dieng had 20 points and 11 rebounds and Shabazz Muhammad scored 28 points for the Timberwolves (29-53), who learned before the game that owner Glen Taylor planned to open up a search for a new president of basketball operations and coach. Minnesota shot 65 percent, made 13 of 28 3-pointers and set a franchise record for points in a game.
''It's a roller-coaster, but you love the ride,'' Mitchell said. ''That's why we do this. We love it.''
Omer Asik had 24 points and 11 rebounds for the Pelicans (30-52). New Orleans had only seven healthy players in a fitting end to a season filled with injuries.
''Obviously, we were just overmatched and short-handed,'' Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. ''The effort was there but you know we just got so tired.''
There wasn't much to play for in this one, with the Timberwolves locked into the No. 5 spot in next month's lottery and the Pelicans at No. 6.
The Pelicans had 11 players who were inactive for the finale, including star forward Anthony Davis (knee, shoulder) and forward Luke Babbitt, who missed the game with food poisoning. It's been that kind of season for the Pelicans, who have been ravaged by injuries and count as one of the most disappointing teams in the NBA.
''We don't have room to have a pity party for ourselves,'' Gentry said. ''We just have to go out and compete and play. And then try to regroup for next season.''
The Pelicans just couldn't keep up with a Wolves team that found out less than an hour before tipoff that Mitchell would not be back next season. Mitchell took over just days before the season when beloved president and coach Flip Saunders died after a battle with Hodgkin's lymphoma. He turned an incredibly difficult situation into a positive by helping youngsters like Towns, Wiggins and Zach LaVine develop.
The Wolves went 15-17 down the stretch after a 14-36 start, including wins over Golden State, Portland, Oklahoma City and the Clippers all on the road. But they won fewer games at Target Center than they did away from it, and owner Glen Taylor set out to find a new president and coach.
If they were distracted in the game, they didn't show it. They rolled up 40 points in the first quarter and never looked back.
Andrew Wiggins scored 21 points, and LaVine had 19 for Minnesota.
James Ennis had 28 points and Toney Douglas had 22 for New Orleans.
''He prepared us for any type of situation and he's the reason why we were so professional,'' Wiggins said after the 144-109 drubbing of the Pelicans. ''You look at other teams out there and they're shutting it down. But everyone played on our team. ... You couldn't tell if it was the first game, the 30th game or the 82nd game.''
PERK FOR 3?
Kendrick Perkins, the 15-year veteran for the Pelicans, hit a 3 at the buzzer of the third quarter. It would have been the first of his career in 15 tries. But after review, officials ruled his foot was on the line. He remains 0 for 14.
''Our guys were really excited about it that he made a 3,'' Gentry said. ''But they went to the table and changed it. So that was about the lightest side of the whole night, really.''
Before the game, Wolves assistant Ryan Saunders and Debbie Saunders, the son and wife of Flip, presented Ricky Rubio with the inaugural Flip Saunders Legacy Award for Rubio's work in the community. Rubio has a ticket program and also does extensive work with Special Olympics athletes in the area.
Pelicans: Dante Cunningham returned to the city he spent two years. He scored 17 points.
Timberwolves: The 80 points in the paint were their highest output in 20 years. ... Eight players hit 3-pointers. ... The previous franchise high for points was 143 against the Lakers in 2014.
Pelicans: The No. 6 spot in the lottery.
Timberwolves: The No. 5 spot in the lottery.