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NBA Preview: Elfrid Payton to return for New Orleans against Karl-Anthony Towns and Minnesota Timberwolves

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The Pelicans are nearing the midway point of the season at five games below .500 and desperately needing a win over a familiar foe.

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

Finally, the New Orleans Pelicans get some good news!

Lost in a freefall, the fast sinking Pelicans have lost six of their past seven games, mostly in heart-breaking fashion, as each loss was by eight points or less.

But now, with the return of point guard Elfrid Payton (as well as Darius Miller/Cheick Diallo), the Pelicans finally get a reprieve from the depleted depth that has all but crushed them in recent weeks.

With Gentry’s hand being forced in the form of Tim Frazier, Ian Clark, Wesley Johnson, Solomon Hill, and rookie Frank Jackson, production outside of Jrue Holiday, Anthony Davis, Julius Randle has been hard to come by. Even worse, losing Nikola Mirotic for a significant amount of time has further complicated things for a Pelicans’ team at risk of missing the playoffs.

Elfrid Payton shouldn’t be viewed as the savior, but the Pelicans can use any and all help they can get, and with a winnable slate of games ahead, the time for a run could begin here if the Pelicans can manage a victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

And the circumstances couldn’t be any friendlier for our Pels. The short-handed Timberwolves will get into New Orleans late after a victory tonight in Miami, and will no doubt be a little exhausted by the time the game tips off Monday night. The Wolves managed the upset against a Heat team that had won six of its past seven games, 113-104, behind 34 points, 18 rebounds, six blocks and three steals from Karl Anthony-Towns. It was a much-needed victory after falling to the Hawks in overtime on Friday.

The Wolves were again without point guards Derrick Rose (ankle) and Jeff Teague (ankle), and may not have them yet again on Monday night.

But looking past any opponent would be an egregious error for this New Orleans team, especially when considering the Wolves have had the last laugh in each of the past five contests against the Pelicans.

Expect another high-scoring affair where the Pelicans will once again battle Karl Anthony-Towns, Taj Gibson, and Dario Saric for the right to own the paint. Robert Covington will no doubt be a difficult matchup for E’Twaun Moore, but hey, at least he won’t be guarding Andrew Wiggins!

Wiggins (16.6 ppg), will likely draw the smaller Holiday, who will try to limit Wiggins in a year where he is already shooting a putrid 40% from the field. Switching him to his old familiar friend in E’Twaun Moore may be a focused part of their game-plan should Moore earn another start after his 21 point, seven rebound performance on Saturday night.

But regardless of the plan or how much KAT and Anthony Davis score, it’s all likely to come down to the final minutes, as is customary for the Pelicans. Hopefully, Payton and the Wolves 24th rated fourth-quarter defense can give the Pelicans the boost they need to close this one out and begin the slow and steady climb back to .500.

New Orleans Minnesota
Pace: 102.5 (4th) Pace: 99.7 (12th)
ORtg: 113.2 (6th) ORtg: 111.0 (13th)
DRtg: 112.5 (25th) DRtg: 111.1 (20th)
Projected Starters:
New Orleans Minnesota
PG - Elfrid Payton PG - Tyus Jones
SG - Jrue Holiday SG - Andrew Wiggins
SF - E'Twaun Moore F - Robert Covington
F - Julius Randle PF - Taj Gibson
C - Anthony Davis C - Karl Anthony-Towns
-

Injuries: Pelicans: Elfrid Payton (probable, finger), Darius Miller (probable, illness), Nikola Mirotic (doubtful, ankle), Cheick Diallo (questionable, ankle), Timberwovles: Derrick Rose (doubtful, ankle), Jeff Teague (doubtful, ankle), Keita Bates-Diop (questionable, illness)

For more on the Wolves, visit our friends at Canis Hoopus.

History:

The New Orleans Pelicans are 29-26 all-time against the Wolves. However, they’ve lost five consecutive games including the 107-100 matchup on November 14th. KAT led the Wolves with 25 points and 13 rebounds, while E’Twaun Moore led the Pelicans with 31 points.

Where To Watch

What: Minnesota Timberwolves (17-19) at New Orleans Pelicans (16-21)

Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans

When: Monday, December 31, 2018, 7:00 p.m. Central

How: FSNO, 99.5 FM WRNO

Let’s geaux, Pels!