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Pelicans could inch closer to spot in Play-In Tournament by beating Timberwolves

Closing out season series with Minnesota would also help reverse trend of four losses in five January contests for New Orleans

Minnesota Timberwolves v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans will officially reach the midway point of the season on Tuesday night when they host the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Sitting at 14-26, the Pelicans are slightly behind pace when it comes to equalling or surpassing their 31 wins from a season ago.

After suffering another tough loss on Sunday afternoon in Toronto, New Orleans has dropped five out of its last six as well.

“Resiliency” remains the word for the Pelicans right now, because things aren’t getting any easier.

January will be the most difficult month of the season when measuring the quality of the team’s opponents.

Of the 15 games on tap for the Pelicans, only four will come against teams with losing records, and three of those teams are just one game under .500 (Los Angeles Clippers, Boston Celtics, New York Knicks).

A 1-4 start to this stretch hasn’t caused New Orleans to lose ground in the race for the 10th seed out West. The Los Angeles Clippers are scuffing along in ninth, just 4-6 in their last 10 games, while the tenth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers seem to be on the verge of collapse as Damian Lillard could be lost for the remainder of the season.

Beating the Timberwolves, and evening the season series between the teams, would bring the Pelicans to within 1.5 games of the 10th spot.

That seemed improbable as the Pels got off to that 1-12 start.

Handing a mediocre Western Conference team a loss always helps, especially one that’s been causing some grief of late.

Minnesota has been a bit of a nemesis for the Pels, having beaten them in four of their last six meetings, including their last two meetings at the Smoothie King Center.

The Timberwolves have found themselves over the last 14 games, going 9-5 over that stretch, and come to New Orleans on a four-game winning streak.

On offense, Pelicans fans are familiar with the firepower Minnesota brings to the court. Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, and D’Angelo Russell combine for 65.4 points, 18.6 rebounds, and 14.3 assists per night.

Towns remains a nightmare matchup for the Pelicans front court, meaning New Orleans will have to focus its attention on slowing down Edwards and Russell.

Expect Herb Jones and Josh Hart to spend most of the night matched up with Edwards, while Devonte’ Graham will attempt to counterbalance the efforts of Russell in the back court.

Can Brandon Ingram be the difference, because he may have to be. He hasn’t played his best against the Wolves, scoring just 22 points per game on 44 percent shooting in those three earlier contests.

New Orleans is also going to need more production from its front court. In games past, the Timberwolves have been able to exploit Pelicans bigs with reserves like Naz Reid, who have outhustled and outperformed the New Orleans bench.

This is a winnable game, but once again the margin for error is thin. From here on out, with half a season to play, the Pelicans will have to be at their best every other night to give themselves a shot at ending their playoff drought.

Whether or not they can do that, expect them to continue to give tremendous effort and compete for 48 minutes. Win or lose, that has become the standard for the Pels.

It’s a start.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (14-26) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (20-20)

When: January 11, 2022, 7:00 pm

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, NBA League Pass

Where to listen: ESPN 100.3 FM

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @DMGrubb.