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NBA Preview: New Orleans Pelicans seek to atone for last season’s struggles against Minnesota Timberwolves

The nemesis known as Jimmy Butler is gone!

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Minnesota Timberwolves Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off a mighty impressive road win against the Raptors, the New Orleans Pelicans (7-6) will next focus their attention on the new-look Minnesota Timberwolves (5-9), who hope a quick facelift can get their season on track.

The Jimmy Butler saga is finally over, with Robert Covington and Dario Saric replacing the unhappy Minnesotan on Tom Thibodeau’s roster, but New Orleans should have no complaints with a changing of the guard. Last season, the Timberwolves swept the four-game series from the Pelicans, and outside of the first contest, the games were not particularly competitive.

The biggest obstacle was slowing down Andrew Wiggins and Butler on the wings as both players poured in an average of 20 points a contest. Although Karl-Anthony Towns and Jeff Teague struggled at times, it mattered little as the depth of Minnesota picked up the slack, with Taj Gibson, Gorgui Dieng and Tyus Jones all posting double figures in scoring through the series. Meanwhile, the Pelicans failed to get timely contributions from anyone not listed in either of their big three groups.

Yet that was then.

In the here and now, New Orleans looks to be a more capable and versatile team than the version that often struggled versus teams above them in the standings. They’ve added Julius Randle to the pairing of Anthony Davis and Nikola Mirotic while Jrue Holiday and E’Twaun Moore are a step ahead of last year’s pace. The Pelicans offense is putting up over 118 points a game, good for third in the league, while the defense has found their footing over the current three-game winning streak.

And let’s not forget that recent adjustments were made without two key contributors: Elfrid Payton and Mirotic, who at the time of this writing are listed as questionable for Wednesday night’s game against the Wolves.

Minnesota dismissed the Brooklyn Nets in their last game, but they had lost their previous five contests. Yet, it’s probably not worth overanalyzing this stretch as reinforcements have arrived — even if only one of three were captured with a legitimate smile.

Thus, the keys to the game are rather straightforward, stemming from what has proven successful in the New Orleans wins on the season.

  1. Limit Turnovers. The Pelicans are averaging 13.3 turnovers in wins, 17.3 in losses. While a difference of four miscues may not seem like much, realize that when things go poorly, New Orleans gives up easy buckets like a June shower in the Crescent City. Opponents average 21.0 points off of turnovers (25th) in wins while only 12.9 (3rd) in losses.
  2. Dominate the Paint. Points in the paint and controlling the offensive glass are vital to the Pels’ success. When New Orleans has enjoyed clear advantages in these two categories, victories have followed. This means not settling for jumpshots, attacking the lane and getting to the free throw line. Ranking 24th in three-point attempts, the Pelicans offense relies on speed and size to rack up points, not dead-eye shooting from the perimeter.
  3. Slow down Derrick Rose. The 2011 MVP is on a hot streak, averaging 24.0 points over the last five Wolves’ contests. Incredibly, he has made over 60% of his three-point attempts over this span. Thankfully, the Pelicans have a miracle worker in Jrue Holiday, who has rendered most of his assignments impotent thus far through the schedule.

Geaux Pels!

What: New Orleans Pelicans at Minnesota Timberwolves

Where: Target Center

When: Wednesday November 14, 2018, 7:00 p.m. Central

How: ESPN, FSN, 99.5 FM WRNO