Winners of 4 of their last 5, the Pelicans will face the Wolves who are equally surging with the same record in their last 5 games. Back on New Year's Day, the Pelicans lost 112-124 in Minnesota, but the game was much less competitive than the score indicates.
Although the Pels will be without Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson this time, the Wolves will be missing Nikola Pekovic. The starting lineup for Minnesota has the 5th best differential (14.0), and as his split stats indicate, Pekovic normally feasts on New Orleans prey, so consider him sidelined a big bullet dodged prior to tip-off.
Yet, before fans get too giddy, realize that the Timberwolves still have plenty of firepower that starts with All-Star Kevin Love. Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer on the wings can fill up the statsheet in different ways and recently, the team has gotten the services of Chase Budinger back.
Three keys to victory:
- Kevin Love v. Anthony Davis. If the Pelicans want to have a realistic chance for a win, Davis needs to win this match-up. Last time, Kevin Love had a below average game by his standards: 21 points (7-19), 6 rebounds and 3 assists. Holding him to a similar line (he hasn't recorded a double-double in only 5 games) while Davis dons his cape would be huge.
- Stay close in the points in the paint battle. No Pekovic means the Wolves and their league-leading +9.7 differential in points in the paint shouldn't happen. Winning the battle would be even better.
- Limit the trips to the charity stripe. Minnesota is 3rd in the league in free throw attempts (26.9). Tread very lightly, Alexis Ajinca and Greg Stiemsma.