The last extended road trip of the season could determine the fate of the 2019-20 New Orleans Pelicans.
With only 19 games left on the schedule, the Pelicans likely have to go 14-5 to give themselves a realistic shot at a second trip to the playoffs in three seasons.
The trip begins up north with today’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Pelicans are 1-1 against ‘Sota this season.
Their win at the Target Center on Dec. 18 marked the beginning of the team’s turnaround after its disastrous 6-22 start.
It was also rare. New Orleans had lost four in a row in a row at Minnesota.
The key to both games this season has been defense. In their first meeting, the Pelicans held the Timberwolves to 99 points, one of only three times the New Orleans defense has held an opponent under 100 points this season.
After Friday’s win over the Miami Heat, the Pelicans improved to 14-6 when allowing 110 points or less.
Their meeting in New Orleans last week may have been the lowest point of the Pelicans’ season since the end of their 13-game losing streak.
The 139 points they allowed was the second highest total of the season. This, to a team that came in with one of the worst offenses in the NBA and was playing without Karl-Anthony Towns.
Minnesota will be without Towns again, but Malik Beasley and D’Angelo Russell are both fantastic scoring threats, combining for more than 43 points per game.
New Orleans is just as explosive, placing fifth in the NBA in scoring at 116.1 points per game.
They will be without the services of JJ Redick and Nickeil Alexander-Walker once again. While NAW’s absence doesn’t change the Pelicans’ rotation much, Redick’s shooting and leadership have been missed.
He is expected to miss the entire road trip with his injured hamstring. The services of a playoff-tested veteran would be great to have at this critical stage of the season.
Quite simply, every game from here on out should be considered a must win. For the Pelicans, and for Alvin Gentry, who still faces a wave of criticism from fans despite the improvements over the past two and a half months.
A second loss to the Timberwolves would all but ensure another losing season for the Pelicans, and kick off a whirlwind of speculation about the team’s roster and short-term future.
Where To Watch/Listen
What: New Orleans Pelicans (27-36) at Minnesota Timberwolves (19-43)
Where: Target Center
When: Sunday, March 8, 2020, 2:30 PM
Listen: ESPN Radio 100.3 FM