The Pelicans will kick off the second half of their 2020-21 schedule tonight against the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves, yet this matchup must not be overlooked by fans or players in New Orleans.
Despite the fact that the Wolves currently occupy the cellar in the Western Conference and have lost 13 of their last 15 games, victory is not assured for the Pelicans. They were defeated in Minnesota in late January by a final score of 120-110, and to be perfectly honest, that loss was emblematic.
On any given night, the Pelicans are liable to win or lose regardless the quality of their opponent. Through the first 36 games on the schedule, New Orleans made a habit of playing down to the level of their competition. They compiled an ugly 8-9 record versus the bottom 14 teams in the league. That needs to change if the Pelicans have hopes of playing past the regular season.
Following yesterday’s practice, Lonzo Ball admitted to media that the All-Star break was a welcome rest period, but the team is eager to tackle the second half.
“The season is far from over. We all know that. I think the break was good for us, just to get away for a little bit because we know we have to move uphill in the second half of the season, but I think we’re all ready for the challenge.”
The challenge from now until the end of the season will be to secure a spot in the top 10 of the West. The Pelicans are resuming play today from the 11th slot, sitting 3.5 games in back of the Warriors and Grizzlies. One has to think that getting back to .500 and staying there will be the bare minimum, but with every team ahead of New Orleans possessing a winning record to date, there’s a good chance that a greater effort will be required.
When the Pelicans last faced the Timberwolves, Minnesota was short-handed; however, that didn’t factor in the result. Both Karl-Anthony Towns and DeAngelo Russell did not play, but five different Wolves totaled 16 points or more in their win, with Naz Reid (20 points) and Anthony Edwards (18 points) leading the charge.
While Russell and Malik Beasley are out tonight and Jarrett Culver is listed as doubtful (toe), Minnesota will have the services of their best player. Towns is a matchup nightmare, as his 6’11 frame can do equal amounts of damage from inside the paint and behind the arc.
KAT owns career averages of 22.9 points and 12.9 rebounds against New Orleans, but his shooting line (52.4 FG%, 50.9 3PT%, 83.6 FT%) feels more impressive.
The most interesting aspect of this matchup, though, might be on the sidelines. Chris Finch is off to an 0-5 start at the helm of the Wolves and he would probably enjoy nothing more than getting off the schneid versus a former employer that passed on him and hired Stan Van Gundy for the top post instead.
Let’s hope the All-Star break acts as good medicine. The Pelicans limped into the hiatus having lost four of five games and an arduous road lies ahead over the final two weeks of March. But first, New Orleans needs to take care of business against one of the worst teams in the league — a task that’s proven far more difficult than it should be.
When: March 11, 7:00 p.m. Central
Where to watch: FSNOLA
Where to listen: ESPN 100.3 FM