Pelicans at Timberwolves Game Preview

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

The birds are back in town.

New Orleans Pelicans at Minnesota Timberwolves

7:00 p.m. CST

Target Center

With the Wolves back at .500, sitting at 22-22 on the season, their sights now turn to the New Orleans Pelicans. Their second matchup of the year, the Wolves got the best of the "Pellies" 124-112 in their first matchup on New Year's Day.

Since then, the Wolves have gone 6-6, playing some of the most inconsistent basketball in the NBA. Still, their spirits are likely up since returning to the Twin Cities. They looked solid on their most recent 4-game road trip, getting 3 victories along the way.

Highlighting that road trip was their nail-biter of a victory at Golden State, As any Wolves fan with a laptop knows by now, that was their first victory by 4 points or less in 12 tries. It's tough to tell if the monkey is off their backs now, but one  to start finding out is getting over the .500 mark for the first time since November 25.

They'll get their chance against a team that has gone 5-9 since their last meeting. Arriving in Minnesota on the latter end of a back-to-back (they beat the Cavaliers 100-89 last night in Cleveland), the Pelicans have been without Jason Smith, Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson - all regular rotation players - for much of the month of January.

Even so, they still have Anthony Davis, regarded as one of, if not the best player still on his rookie deal in the league. They also still have Eric Gordon, who, while not the player they wanted nor expected when they traded for him two years ago, can still score the basketball.

The Pelicans have certainly had less luck with injuries than the Wolves, but the recent loss of Nikola Pekovic will force Rick Adelman to change the way tonight's game is played.

In Ryan Anderson's absence, the Pelicans have played Davis at power forward next to Alexis Ajinca in the starting 5. Had Pekovic been healthy, the Wolves almost certainly would have looked to exploit that matchup inside. With Ronny Turiaf, there is still a strength advantage, but Turiaf's offensive limitations obviously make the center matchup less beneficial to the Wolves than it could have been with Pek in the lineup.

The matchup between Kevin Love and Anthony Davis will be the one that most will be looking for. Love had problems in their last encounter, shooting 7-19 from the field for 21 points and 6 rebounds. He hasn't shot well lately either, going just 4-21 from 3-point land over his last 4 games. He may be due for a big night, but Davis' prowess on the defensive end will make it tough. It's unclear how much the two will guard each other, but Davis' combination of speed, length and athleticism make him tough for any player to handle on either end of the floor.

If you want a good summary on how the Pelicans have been doing, check out this excellent piece over at The Bird Writes. In short, despite their noted defensive deficiencies (last in the league in points per 100 possessions), their most used lineup (Holiday/Gordon/Aminu/Davis/Smith) is in the top 10 among lineups with at least 200 combined minutes.

That same lineup, however, is in the bottom 10 offensively by the same stat, while the team as a whole ranks in the top 10.

Basically, their best defensive lineup may also be their worst offensive lineup. They're in a situation where they have to choose whether to space the floor and flow nicely on offense, or to sacrifice some points and spacing in an effort to clog the lane on defense. With Anderson (offense) and Smith (defense) both out, it makes Monty Williams' task of finding a good balance even more difficult than it would be with a healthy roster.

A win for Minnesota tonight would give the Wolves their first winning record in over 2 months, and would also give them their 4th win in their last 5 games. In other words, a win tonight would make for a very happy locker room.

Expected Lineups:

Pelicans

Brian Roberts

Eric Gordon

Al-Farouq Aminu

Anthony Davis

Alexis Ajinca

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Timberwolves

Ricky Rubio

Kevin Martin

Corey Brewer

Kevin Love

Ronny Turiaf

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