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NBA Preview: New Orleans Pelicans welcome Nikola Mirotic to lineup against Minnesota Timberwolves

The first trade deadline reinforcement is ready for action!

Minnesota Timberwolves v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

In the blink of an eye, the New Orleans Pelicans (28-23) are suddenly flying high, but before getting too excited, realize they have a date on Saturday night with this season’s arch-nemesis, the Minnesota Timberwolves (33-22).

The Pelicans have already faced the Wolves three times on the schedule, yet they remain in search of victory number one against Tom Thibodeau’s bunch. In the first matchup, Jimmy Butler’s excellence down the stretch was the difference. Round two felt like a TKO as an Anthony Davis’ ejection took all the wind out of New Orleans’ sails. Then, shortly after the new year, the Pelicans came out lethargic and the Wolves ran circles around them for win number three.

The Timberwolves have accounted for 13% of the losses on New Orleans record, and it feels like that percentage would be 100% if the teams met each and every night of the season. Thankfully, there’s thirty teams in the association.

Jokes aside, the Pelicans do have a chance to change the script.

  • On Friday night, New Orleans put together perhaps their best effort of the season, beating the Oklahoma City Thunder by a 114-100 margin. The eight-man rotation — nine if you feel compelled to count the four minutes of action by Mike James — shocked the world as each member contributed in positive fashion.
  • Nikola Mirotic will be making his much anticipated debut for the Pelicans, and his presence should bolster the rotation and the team’s offensive output.
  • Although they’ve lost four of their last six, the Timberwolves are a perfect 9-0 since the calendar flipped to 2018. However, I can’t help but wonder if having the Super Bowl in their own backyard and being around that circus causes Minnesota to not play with the requisite amount of focus. Oh sure, they pulled off that trick on Thursday, but it’s not difficult to imagine the parties and get togethers that a lot of the players attended later in the night and on Friday, huh?

Three Keys to Victory

Hit first. The Timberwolves have a 7-11 record when trailing at halftime. Maybe if New Orleans can start with the superior energy and sustain the effort through the first 24 minutes, the outcome of the game will finally see a different result. Minnesota is not a good three-point shooting team nor do they even like to hoist up the attempts so get them down double digits and see if their patience and execution suffer.

Throw the kitchen sink at Wiggins. The best bet at slowing down the three-headed monster of Butler-Towns-Wiggins is preventing Andrew Wiggins from having a good game. In their eight losses since the start of January, Wiggins has a shooting line of 40.3%/33.3%/56.3%. Paging Jrue Holiday?

Push the pace as fast and hard as possible. Look, Minnesota is a really good team. The odds of beating them at home are slim — they’ve won 11 straight inside the Target Center. On top of playing great defense and executing well on offense, teams need to usually come up with something extra. In the Pelicans case, they should seek to push the pace. The Timberwolves have allowed an average of 16.5 fastbreak points in losses, which is the worst mark in league. When the going gets tough, go fast and furious, I say!

Geaux Pels!

What: New Orleans Pelicans at Minnesota Timberwolves

Where: Target Center

When: February 3, 2018, 8:00 p.m. Central

How: FSNO, WRNO 99.5 FM