As you know, the Pelicans added some quality parts over the summer to complement Anthony Davis. The T’Wolves, after catching lightning in a bottle by drafting reigning Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns, upgraded at the coaching position by hiring Tom Thibodeau and with a core of Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, seemed prime to pull a 2009 Oklahoma City Thunder and emerge as a contender in the West. The pieces, especially Davis vs. Towns, were there to make Pelicans-Wolves a new, fun rivalry in the league.
But, true to their form, the Pelicans and Timberwolves have played like...well, the Pelicans and the Timberwolves this year.
Each are sitting with a 20-33 record so both teams have been total flops this year. The improved health and off season signings have hardly improved the Pelicans, nor has the universally lauded hiring of Thibodeau done anything for the Timberwolves. Apparently mediocrity is just embedded in these two franchies’ DNAs.
Thibodeau, whose calling card is defense, has yet to see his team live up to his defensive reputation. The Wolves are 16th in points allowed and 24th in defensive rating. Towns has hardly been the necessary anchor in the middle and I sincerely doubt Nikola Pekovic’s season ending injury would improve the Timberwolves 23rd ranking in allowing points in the paint. Minnesota is also 29th in defensive rebounding and in the bottom third of the league in blocking shots. These numbers are equal parts uncharacteristic and worrisome for a Thibodeau coached team.
Minnesota has a solid core for sure. Towns is a stud. Ditto for Andrew Wiggins, who is enjoying the best season of his young career and seems to have added a more reliable three point shot to his repertoire. Zach LaVine had also seemingly made the leap but a torn ACL a week ago will cut short his best season as a professional. After those three, Minnesota still has Ricky Rubio and Gorgui Dieng who is averaging close to a double-double this year (10 points and 8 rebounds).
After them there’s not a lot to love about this Timberwolves team. Shabazz Muhammad is giving Minnesota nine points off the bench in 19 minutes of playing time but beyond that the reserve unit is weak. Hoopstats.com has the Timberwolves’ bench ranked last in points scored, and 28th in both rebounding and assists. Depth is certainly not a luxury for the Minnesota.
If the playoffs are what New Orleans is aiming for, that goal is still attainable, at least in theory. The Pelicans are only 3.5 games behind Denver for the eight-seed. The Pelicans only have one game at home the rest of this month, so if they want to get back into the playoff race they’ll have to do something they’ve been porous at this year: winning on the road.
The Pelicans are 6-18 on the road but have as manageable stretch as they’ll have coming up with games against the Wolves, Kings and Suns on the horizon before closing in Memphis. The Pelicans will have a night off before the game in Sacramento and Memphis. Only the Suns game will be the second night of a back-to-back and if there’s any team out West you’d feel okay playing in that scenario it’s Phoenix. Frankly there’s no reason why New Orleans shouldn’t go at least 3-1 on this road trip. Good teams win on the road. If the Pelicans still believe they have a chance, show me now. Start by beating Minnesota.
What: Pelicans at Minnesota
Where: Target Center - Minneapolis, MN
When: February 10th, 2017 at 7:00 PM Central
How: Fox Sports New Orleans, Fox Sports North, 99.5 FM WRNO