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NBA Preview: Anthony Davis returns just in time to face KAT and a whole slew of awkwardness

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New Orleans Pelicans get their foot-half-out-the-door superstar back for Friday night’s nationally-televised contest against the Timberwolves.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

After Wednesday night’s win against the Chicago Bulls (but, in all likelihood, probably long before that), the attention of all Pelicans fans turned to Thursday’s trade deadline and whether or not Anthony Davis would still be on the roster when it came to pass.

He is.

And not only is he still a member of the Pelicans, but he is expected to suit up and take the court with his teammates when they host the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night.

For a Minnesota team that has struggled as of late, that is surely something they do not like to hear. They had lost four of their past five contests, including a one-point loss to the Denver Nuggets and a bad defeat to the drastically less competitive Memphis Grizzlies, before 122-112 to the Magic on Thursday.

Despite, or perhaps because of, a mid-season head-coaching change from Tom Thibodeau to Scott Saunders, the Timberwolves have maintained their average-ness that has characterized their season. At 25-29, they rank 14th in offensive rating (109.9) and 18th in defensive rating (110.1) to position themselves with a whopping net rating of -0.2 (18th).

Karl-Anthony Towns has been anything but mediocre as of late though. Over his past 10 games, he has averaged 26.0 points in addition to 11.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.2 blocks. He is an incredibly gifted talent, capable of doing everything a team can ask of a big man in the modern NBA. In recent years, a game against the Pelicans has meant an opponent that the same can be said of, and with Davis’ return assured, a certainty.

Expect Davis to supplant Kenrich Williams in the starting lineup. That would have been a relieving statement at the start of the season, but now it should be considered somewhat of a bummer.

Williams got to play at least 30 minutes in each of the Pelicans’ previous five contests and did not take his first extended opportunity this season for granted, filling up the box score in a myriad of ways. His career-high 16 rebounds against the Houston Rockets, career-high 21 points against the Denver Nuggets or eight rebounds, five assists and two steals when he shot only 3-13 from the field versus the Indiana Pacers resulted in only one win in the standings, but such production from a rookie, especially one on the wing, should be enough to have any New Orleans basketball fan itching for more.

The Davis-less Pelicans relied heavily on Julius Randle in Chicago after he had missed the previous six games due to an ankle injury. Despite coming off of the bench, Randle logged 31 minutes and averaged one point in each of them, finishing with a line of 31 points and seven rebounds. In all of January, he knocked down five three pointers. In this one? Four (on six attempts.) When he’s hot, he’s hot, and the Pelicans probably would have lost on Wednesday if not for that effort.

The battle of the bigs on the glass could ultimately be the difference in this one. The Pelicans rank 10th in the league in offensive rebound percentage (28.8%) while the Timberwolves sit at 25th on the defensive glass (70.9%). On the other side of the court, the roles reverse though, as New Orleans ranks just 15th in defensive rebound percentage (73%) and Minnesota is 2nd-best (30.2%) at securing second chances. Randle, Davis and Towns are among the league’s best at putting back loose stuff, and whichever team can slow the other in this regard stands to have a solid shot to steal the game.

How the Smoothie King Center reacts to seeing Davis back in uniform will likely be the highlight of the night, no matter how the game turns out. It is a first look at what could very well shape up to be a very awkward final stretch of the season.

Starters:

Pelicans - Holiday - Jackson - Miller - Davis (?) - Okafor

Timberwolves - Bayless (yes, that one!) - Okogie - Wiggins - Gibson - Towns

Let’s geaux.

Where To Watch

What: Minnesota Timberwolves (25-28) vs New Orleans Pelicans (24-31)

Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA

When: Friday, February 6th, 2018, 8:30 p.m. Central

How: ESPN, FSNO, 99.5 FM WRNO