The New Orleans Pelicans need to make amends Saturday night for two awful slip-ups against the Minnesota Timberwolves earlier this season.
In late January, the Pels fell 120-110 in Minnesota and then the Timberwolves slaughtered New Orleans on their home floor in March by a final score of 135-105.
Those two defeats came at the hands of a very bad team.
In their first 50 games on the schedule, the Wolves managed a league-worst 12 victories. Their offense and defense ranked in the bottom five. They shot poorly from two-point range (50.3 FG% — 28th) and from deep (34.6 3PT% — 26th). They were the worst team at grabbing defensive rebounds (70.6 DREB% — 30th).
On an average night, Minnesota could be counted on to suffer an 8-point loss. But, unfortunately for the Pelicans, those days are gone.
Since that incredibly dark period for Minnesotan fans, the Timberwolves have posted an 8-6 record. They’ve been even better when Karl-Anthony Towns has been in lineups (8-4).
The biggest reason for the turnaround is Minnesota’s offense. It’s markedly more fearsome. They’re no longer pups lacking bite.
KAT’s stellar production remains a given (24.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists), but Anthony Edwards has been a problem for opponents since the calendar flipped to March. The rookie is averaging 22.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.7 threes over his last 29 games.
The most interesting booster shot, though, has been D’Angelo Russell. Since returning from arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, he’s come off the bench, but the numbers have been good: 18.7 points, 5.6 assists, 2.9 threes.
Minnesota’s group of reserves is leading the league in scoring at 49.6 points per game the last 14 contests.
When KAT, Dloading and Ant-man have all appeared in the same game, the Timberwolves are 10-6. Handing that trio a somewhat rare loss will be New Orleans’ challenge.
While the defense has taken a step forward this month (108.6 DRTG — 6th) and Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram should combine for 40+ points, the Pelicans will likely need a third scorer to counter the Wolves three-headed attack. With no Josh Hart and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, the only other Pels besides the two stars to average double figures in scoring last month were Lonzo Ball and Eric Bledsoe.
How important are healthy contributions by Pels’ starting guards? Very. When Bled’s gone for 18 or more, the Pelicans have won 8 of 12 contests. When Zo’s topped 15 points, New Orleans is 12-8.
If the Pelicans want to put a little more heat on the Spurs and Warriors — both teams have lost two straight — for the play-in tournament bids, they must find a way to stop the Timberwolves season-high four-game winning streak.
Notching the first victory of the season against a Minnesota team that should have no business entering Saturday’s contest 2-0 against them should provide all the motivation necessary for every member on New Orleans roster.
Let’s rise up to the occasion, Pels.
Who: New Orleans Pelicans (28-35) at Minnesota Timberwolves (20-44)
When: May 1, 7:00 p.m. Central
Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans
Where to listen: ESPN 100.3 FM
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