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New Orleans Pelicans lose 118-107 to Minnesota Timberwolves but Nikola Mirotic shows potential dividends

Jimmy Butler’s crew beat the Pelicans for a fourth time on the season.

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

The Minnesota Timberwolves beat the New Orleans Pelicans yet again, sweeping the regular season four-game series. However, for a change, there were happy positives to take away from Saturday night’s 118-107 loss.

Let’s jump right to the good stuff: Nikola Mirotic was most impressive in his Pelicans debut, looking well worth the price of a 2018 first round pick. He stuffed the stat line with 18 points, 12 rebounds, four steals and three three-pointers, but watching him move, think the game and give full effort should have made hearts swoon. He’s a believer in boxing out assignments and playing defense with arms out-stretched on one end, cutting smartly, whipping quick passes and setting himself up for open spot-up situations on the other.

Following the game, Mitotic sounded genuinely happy about his new opportunity. “It was great for me. It’s true, I didn’t have too much time to prepare. We didn’t have a practice this morning because they played last night. But, I had a meeting with the coach and team this morning and it was helpful. The guys made it simple for me tonight. It was very helpful. Tough loss, but I’m happy enough to be with the guys, with the team now and it’s a great feeling to be here.”

When Mirotic was on the floor tonight, the Pelicans looked like a team which could actually give the Timberwolves some problems. In his 35 minutes, the Pelicans were six points stronger on the scoreboard and posted a 115.5 offensive rating and a 105.1 defensive rating. That’s really good considering the number of times we’ve witnessed Minnesota mop the floor with New Orleans players this season.

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

Anthony Davis, who tallied 39 points, nine rebounds and two steals, described Mirotic’s performance succinctly, “He played well. He was able to space the floor and make some great plays defensively. We’re glad to have him.”

Although Davis went on to mention the Pelicans need time to make adjustments — Mirotic is yet to practice with the team, he was impressed by what he saw out of his new teammate tonight.

“He’s an all-around player,” said Davis. “We brought him here for a reason — to showcase everything he can do — so we’re going to continue to need him to play like he played tonight.”

Unless the front office happens to land another multi-talented big before the trade deadline or gets fortunate by attracting a useful buyout candidate, hope Nikola Mirotic soon joins the starting lineup because that group needs a spark. The Timberwolves, once more, jumped out of the gates quickly, scoring the game’s first nine points, and they ran out to a 26-8 advantage in the first quarter.

Davis mentioned to post-game media that the Pelicans spotted the Wolves 16 points by not coming out with enough urgency and matching their opponent physically. “We just got off to a slow start and gave them whatever they wanted in those first couple of minutes.”

You know who didn’t have an issue with energy or throwing his weight around? Yep, the new guy, who paid immediate dividends when he first entered the game despite not understanding most team strategies. New Orleans cannot continue to have trouble with effort levels at the start of games or third quarters so let’s hope the coaching staff decides to move Dante Cunningham back to the bench sooner rather than later.

Although Minnesota began the third quarter on a 12-4 run, the Pelicans, as they did in the first half, didn’t pack it in despite facing another big deficit. With the outside shot not dropping, they attacked the glass hard, so much so they finished the night with 18 offensive rebounds — a new season-high. Mirotic grabbed six OREB, Davis, five, and a sight for sore eyes, Cheick Diallo, had four.

New Orleans Pelicans v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

That’s two games in a row now where the Pelicans seldom used 2016 second round draft pick has made a positive impact. Following up on his seven-point, nine-rebound performance last night against the Thunder, Diallo notched his first double-double of the season (fourth of his career) with 10 points and 10 just 15 minutes of playing time!

After the game, Head Coach Alvin Gentry had this to say about his second-year player: “Well, I thought he did a good job for us. Obviously, he hasn’t played very many minutes, and it was hard to find time for him when we had DeMarcus and AD out there. But, I think the way he played tonight he earns an opportunity for more minutes.”

Although Gentry next admitted Diallo’s playing time would depend on matchups, he was proud of the 21-year-old’s activity level inside and on the boards. That’s good because lackadaisical stretches continue to haunt New Orleans. In the first half, the Wolves outscored the Pelicans 36-22 inside the paint and that margin was largely built within the first twelve minutes.

“You can’t play uphill the entire game and that’s what we had to do because we got off to such a bad start,” said Gentry.

The coach also lamented that the team struggled to come up with enough of the 50/50 balls, but did acknowledge the previous game against the Thunder could have had something to do with that. Specifically, the head coach referenced Jrue Holiday, who made only three shots on the night for nine points, noting, “his legs weren’t quite there.”

Facing Paul George, Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony one night and then 24 hours later, Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins?

Yeah, that’ll probably do it.

Anyways, there’s no need to further dwell on this defeat because the guys did fight all night to make up the difference and a 1-1 road trip on back-to-backs in OKC and Minny is something nearly every team in the association would agree to beforehand.

Nikola Mirotic made his Pelicans debut in grand fashion, posting his 5th double-double of season. After the loss, he stated that he needs to learn how to play with his new teammates, and they him, but he’s confident of the fact that he’ll learn fast.

Good deal — the Pelicans have lost three of four and sit only 1.5 games outside of the playoff picture looking in. New Orleans needs to right the ship as soon as possible, so let’s hope that happens on Monday when they welcome the Utah Jazz, who are riding a five-game winning streak.

Geaux Pels!