After the Knicks game, there was some good news for the Pelicans. First, they learned that Anthony Davis was returning after missing the previous three games with a foot injury. Then, they defeated the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday Night, beating a team they were supposed to, as well as moving back to a .500 overall record. At 21-21, the Pelicans are hanging around in that Western Conference race for the eighth spot, but fell into the 10th spot with Phoenix and Oklahoma City surging a bit. In his return, Davis scored 29 points, grabbed eight rebounds, and blocked four shots.
I still don’t know how I feel about this team on many different levels. To be honest, there are many different opinions (or what the kids call them, takes) you have about this team, ranging from positive to negative, hopeful to doubtful. I was very disappointed with how this month is playing out, and even with the injuries to Holiday and Davis, they weren’t looking great. Beating some of the better teams in the league is fine, but the losses were terrible, highlighted by that Knicks loss. Perhaps I’ll share my thoughts on this team in a longer post at another date, because I have zero clue on how to feel about them.
Anyway, let’s talk New Orleans traveling to Minnesota to face the Timberwolves.
The Wolves bring up the rear in the Western Conference, sitting at 7-34 with a -9.9 point differential. They’re 3-17 at home and 4-17 on the road, and losers of 18 of their last 20 games this season. It’s ugly basketball in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but it gets better. The Wolves are a young team, highlighted by 2014 number one overall pick Andrew Wiggins. Guys like Zach Lavine, Anthony Bennett, Troy Daniels, Gorgui Dieng, and Shabazz Muhammad are all nice pieces for the future, and they have their first round pick in this year’s draft. They still have some work to do, but hitting on the Kevin Love trade was one of the key parts in this rebuild, and Wiggins looks like a stud.
Hey, I know a couple people at Canis Hoopus, so go read that game preview: Canis Hoopus
Stats of Note
Going back to Nylon Calculus, the Wolves rank near the bottom of both efficiency stats. Offensively, the Wolves rank 25th in the league at 103.3, but part of that has to do with the absence of Ricky Rubio at the point guard position, as well as Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin being injured. They have the offensive talents to work with (Wiggins, Thaddeus Young, Muhammad) to run around and create, but no facilitator to get them the ball. Not having Kevin Martin hurts them on the perimeter, removing a solid scorer, while losing Nikola Pekovic removes one of the better low post players in the league off the roster.
Defensively, the Wolves are last in the league, allowing 113.5 points per 100 possessions. The Wolves lack a rim protector (Last in the league, allowing 56.2% at the rim) , they're lacking Ricky Rubio (a defensive plus at a pretty important position) and they're just a young team. Being a young team, their defense will lag behind their offense. Along with their young players, guys like Thaddeus Young, Mo Williams, and Chase Budinger aren't doing any favors for them on the defensive end.
A couple good Minnesota stats: The team's pace and opponent’s turnover percentage. The Wolves, like most young teams should, just run all over the place, ranking sixth in the league in pace. Sounds about right for a team full of inexperienced guys who can finish offensive possessions with spectacular dunks. They’re also seventh in opponent’s turnover percentage at 16.0 turnovers per game. Corey Brewer's knack for forcing steals (2.3 per game before being traded to Houston) was a part of this success, but the Wolves have done an excellent job of keeping that up, and forcing mistakes from the opponent.
Keys to Victory
Attack the Rim — Easy enough: The Pelicans have a prolific driver in Tyreke Evans. With Holiday, another good driver, out, I would like to see Evans get some chances of just attacking the middle of Minnesota’s defense and either finish or get some free throw attempts.
Abuse Them On The Glass — The Wolves are 27th in the league in rebounding, 29th in total rebounds, 28th in percentage of rebounds per chance, and 20th in rebound chances per game. Anthony Davis and Omer Asik are two decent rebounders, meaning both should have the advantage of grabbing rebounds over Minnesota. Eliminating second chances by stopping them on the defensive glass.
Stop Andrew Wiggins — So, here are Andrew Wiggins’ numbers in his last ten games: 21.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.4 steals, 47.8% shooting. I think the Pelicans should make sure he doesn’t go off, because the way the Pelicans are playing, that could be the difference in a win or loss. I say, go with Evans on him, then Pondexter and see how it goes.
The Wolves aren’t very good, but the Knicks weren’t very good, but then again, the Lakers weren’t very good, and the Pelicans won, so I don’t know how to think about this Pelicans game. Anthony Davis is back, the Wolves don’t have much talent, but you have to worry about Andrew Wiggins. Let’s hope for a winning streak. Geaux Pelicans.
What: Pelicans at Timberwolves
Where: Target Center
When: January 23rd, 7:00 PM
How: Fox Sports New Orleans, League Pass