Brandon Ingram nets 13 in return; Pelicans drop 6th straight

NEW ORLEANS -- Getting Brandon Ingram back from a 29-game absence wasn't enough to stop a losing skid for the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night.

Ingram played 26 minutes in his return from a left big toe contusion, but the Pelicans' offense went cold over a long stretch in the second and third quarters as the Minnesota Timberwolves pulled out a 111-102 win.

It was the season-long sixth consecutive defeat for the Pelicans (26-23), who've lost 11 of their past 14 games overall.

Ingram last played Nov. 25, and had tried to come back from the injury before but felt pain that he wasn't able to play through. He said he started to feel much better in the past week and a half. He pointed to a 5-on-5 session he had in Miami on Saturday that allowed him to start feeling like he could truly get back on the court and be himself.

Ingram said he felt excited to be back with a chance to compete with his teammates again.

"It's been a while, and this is probably my first injury where I had to sit out this many games before coming back to play during the season," he said. "It was just anxiety to play and be on the floor with the guys and just trying to be effective in the best way I can."

Ingram was clearly knocking the rust off from his long stint on the sideline, shooting 4 of 18 from the field while missing all five 3-point attempts. He finished with 13 points, five assists and five rebounds in 26 minutes.

The Pelicans are trying to manage Ingram's minutes as he returns, but he said he hopes they go up "immediately."

"I felt like was back watching again a little bit, but I know it's all a part of the process of trying to get me back safe and continue to be on the basketball floor," Ingram said. "I know that's part of the process, but hopefully we can get through this and I can get back to who I am."

Doing that would help the Pelicans return to being the team that was atop the Western Conference at times in December instead of the one mired in a season-long losing streak. Ingram's teammates are confident that will come with time.

"His gravity, his understanding of the game, getting to his spots, obviously having a good defender on him so that takes away one more good defender that's normally out there roaming or trying to guard myself or (Zion Williamson), so it's nice to have him out there," CJ McCollum said.

Ingram's gravity was on full display on the Pelicans' first possession. As he got back at the free throw line, he drew two defenders, leaving McCollum wide open for a 3-pointer.

"He definitely makes the game easier for myself along with everybody else," McCollum said. "Spacing, he gave me some easy looks tonight. Baseline drives, baseline drifts, single-side tag actions where I was able to shake up and get some open catch and shoot 3s. Quality shots."

McCollum noted that while Ingram made some great plays, there's work to be done.

"He got to his spot, got us in the bonus a little quicker than normal tonight," McCollum said. "Outside that third quarter, I thought we played a really good game."

Pelicans coach Willie Green said the team has to find the consistency that has escaped it in recent games.

"It's something I got to figure out. It's something our team has to figure out," he said. "We will. But right now, we're just going through it. And we have to pick up our juice and be consistent doing it."

In five of the past six games, the Pelicans have had one quarter they've lost by at least 10 points. On Wednesday, the Timberwolves used a 39-21 advantage in the third to control the second half and get the victory.

While Ingram won't magically cure the Pelicans' woes, there is hope throughout the team that things will improve as he acclimates back into the lineup and Williamson returns, as well.

"It's never fun to lose games," Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas said. "Especially having this losing streak. We just gotta stick together. First of all, we got to look in the mirror and say what can I do better. There's no time to point fingers or do something like that.

"Strong teams do well through these tough moments. Weak teams start pointing at each other. I think we are a strong team and that tough times are building our character as well."