Less than three weeks ago, the Pelicans mounted a big first half comeback against the Timberwolves to win going away, 114-99. However, Eric Gordon fractured a finger on his shooting hand midway through the contest, and Quentin surmised in the recap that it could hurt the team's long-term prospects. It looks like he may have been right.
With Tyreke Evans also sidelined until at least through the All-Star break, New Orleans has been reeling hard of late. Losers of four straight games, help isn't coming any time soon for a squad that will probably continue starting Norris Cole and Bryce Dejean-Jones in the same backcourt.
After legitimately climbing back into the postseason race, the Pelicans are on the verge of thinking about next year; seven games separate them and the Utah Jazz in the standings with just thirty-two to go. One year ago, New Orleans trailed Phoenix by a mere game for the 8th slot in the Western Conference.
The Timberwolves, conversely, have performed much better over their last five games. They have won two straight over the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Clippers, both playoff contenders. In addition, they narrowly lost road matchups to the Los Angeles Lakers and the Portland Trailblazers.
The biggest difference maker has been Gorgui Dieng. Since replacing Kevin Garnett in the starting lineup six games ago, he has averaged 18.2 points and 10.5 rebounds. When considering Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns have combined for 41.8 points, 16.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.9 blocks during the same timespan, Minnesota is fielding a much more potent lineup at the start of games.
What's more, the Timberwolves have Zach LaVine (18.7 points) and Shabazz Muhammed (7.5 points) ready to come off the bench. With the Pelicans averaging just 93 points a game during the losing streak, they are in danger yet again of bringing a knife to a gun fight.
3 Things to Watch
- Starting lineup differential. The Timberwolves newest starting lineup has a +16.2 Net Rating over the last five games, meanwhile the Pelicans had a -12.1 NetRtg in 4 games with Alonzo Gee. With Dante Cunningham re-entering the starting lineup against the Cavaliers, the Pelicans posted a +11.3 NetRtg, but it remains to be seen whether that figure is a mirage.
- Jrue Holiday continuing to flounder in his reserve role. Over the last 5 games, Holiday has made 37.1% of his field goal attempts, 20.0% of his three-point attempts and 76.9% of his free throw attempts. He's obviously in a slump, as is the rest of the team, so wouldn't now be a perfect time to change things up and re-insert him in the starting lineup? If the coaching staff is indeed limiting his time due to performance restraints, can't it be monitored just as easily in a different role?
- Bryce Dejean-Jones. The rookie put up his first dud as a starter in the Cleveland loss so it'll be interesting to watch how he bounces back. If by chance Dell Demps needs more convincing before doling out a season long+ contract, Dejean-Jones only has two games left to prove himself.