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Pelicans positioned well to keep win streak alive against Timberwolves

Zion Williamson, Trey Murphy and Dyson Daniels are all expected to return to action

New Orleans Pelicans v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Cooper Neill/NBAE via Getty Images

Let’s try this again: the New Orleans Pelicans are expected to welcome Zion Williamson back into the fold Wednesday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Williamson (return to competition reconditioning) is listed as probable on the latest injury report. He relayed to media after yesterday’s practice that he’s feeling great after recently contracting the coronavirus, believing he’ll be in tonight’s lineup.

“I’m most likely going to play,” Williamson said. “I’ve gotta play. I sat on the sidelines enough last year.”

It sounded as though he dealt with few symptoms, if any.

“The worst part about COVID, even if you don’t have symptoms, it’s just the fact that you’ve got to be inside. You can’t do nothing. And when I did get cleared, it was the day of the game. My legs were not under me. They got the win, I was excited about that, but it did suck to have to sit out.”

Trey Murphy (non-COVID illness) and Dyson Daniels (non-COVID illness) are probable to play after also going fully through Tuesday’s practice.

Herb Jones (health and safety protocols) was upgraded to questionable, but the Pelicans have already announced he’ll be out this evening.

Brandon Ingram (left great toe contusion) remains out, but he has been able to work on his shooting and conditioning in recent days.

With multiple reinforcements expected back for the matchup against the Timberwolves, the Pelicans will be more apt to extend their current three-game winning streak and continue their pursuit of the best record in franchise history.

The 2007-08 Hornets team finished with a 56-26 record, posting a .683 winning percentage. The current Pelicans squad is 21-12 which equates to a .636 winning percentage.

For those wondering, that 2007-08 team got out of the gates with a 22-11 record, so these Pelicans are on an almost identical pace through the first 33 games of the season.

Then again, the 2008-09 Hornets squad also had a 22-11 record after 33 contests, which ultimately finished with a 49-33 overall record.

For what it’s worth, the Cleaning The Glass website favors the Pelicans to approach the 56-win team. Whichever route the current Pelicans take, though, they are on track to at least finish with one of the best records in franchise history.

Standing in the immediate path are the Timberwolves, who have failed to meet lofty expectations thus far.

The offseason trade with the Utah Jazz for Rudy Gobert was met with plenty of disdain; however, many believed the deal would still vault the Timberwolves up the Western Conference standings. Yet they arrive in New Orleans at 16-18, having precisely the same record after 34 games last season.

The advanced numbers point to a mediocre Minnesota team. The offense sits 18th (112.1 offensive rating), the defense, 13th (112.5 defensive rating), and the starting lineup hasn’t dominated in a fashion many had predicted.

The grouping of D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels, Karl-Anthony Towns and Gobert have posted a +4.0 net rating through 260 minutes. The Towns-Gobert pairing (-0.7 net rating), in particular, hasn’t clicked.

The Pelicans won’t get an opportunity to see Towns (right calf strain), though, nor Taurean Prince (right shoulder subluxation) and Jordan McLaughlin (left calf strain). All three have been designated as out by Timberwolves PR, with Kyle Anderson listed as questionable with back spasms.

The Timberwolves are very susceptible on the glass without Towns. They weren’t special with him, as opposing teams still consistently beat them on the boards, but without him on the floor, they’ve been downright abysmal as evidenced by a 68.5 defensive rebounding percentage.

In comparison, the bottom three teams in the league have 69.1 defensive rebounding percentages. The Pelicans took advantage of that area in their matchup against the Pacers a few days ago, out-rebounding Indiana 54-36.

Look for New Orleans to also dominate the second chance points category, especially if Williamson is in uniform. The Timberwolves give up an average of 14.8 second chance points, the sixth-worst mark in the league.

Additionally, Williamson has fared well against Gobert at the rim previously.

Anthony Edwards is already a special player, but despite scoring 30 and 29 points on great efficiencies against the Celtics and Heat respectively, the Timberwolves notched L’s.

The Pelicans look to be positioned well to walk away from Wednesday’s matchup with a victory and strengthen their hold of second place — or perhaps grab a share of first with a Nuggets’ loss against the Kings — in the West.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (21-12) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (16-18)

When: December 28, 2022, 7:00 p.m. CT

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, League Pass

Where to listen: WRNO 99.5

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 @OlehKosel.