Minnesota Timberwolves (12-9) at New Orleans Pelicans (11-9)
In what is becoming a somewhat familiar story, last night the Minnesota Timberwolves played a tough game against the Washington Wizards but were unable to hold onto victory, losing 92-89 after leading most of the game. Without Jeff Teague and Nemanja Bjelica, all of the starters had a positive plus-minus and all played over 37 minutes. The bench barely got any run and when they did it was disastrous.
Now, after the home game last night, the Wolves had to travel to New Orleans to take on a fellow Western Conference rival in the New Orleans Pelicans. This is the type of game that will likely decide the seeding results for the playoffs at the end of the year.
The Pelicans are coming into the game tonight on several nights rest, having last played on Saturday night against the Warriors. The Pelicans have been up and down this season, but generally, the DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis combination has been working as anticipated.
Cousins and Davis are combining for 51.5 points, 23.9 rebounds, 8.6 assists, 2.9 steals, and 3.4 blocks per game. They are both playing at an extraordinarily high level and Cousins has further extended his game beyond the three-point line, shooting 33 percent on 6.9 threes per game.
Taj Gibson and Karl-Anthony Towns have their work cut out for them. Towns, in particular, will be important to watch tonight as it is likely that Towns will be trying to exact revenge against his fellow Wildcat brethren after the last matchup where Towns had one of his worst games of this career. Cousins bothered Towns all game and Towns struggled with foul trouble, finishing with two points on 1-7 shooting with five fouls and four turnovers.
The Pelicans are still running their oddball lineups now that Rajon Rando has come back into the fold. Rondo and Jrue Holiday comprise the backcourt, with E’Twaun Moore filling out the only real wing spot. Dante Cunningham has been an important floor spacer for them, but he is questionable for tonight after exiting the last game with a left knee injury.
The Pelicans do like to push the pace and are 7th in the league in pace. The Wolves starters will have to focus on transition defense to avoid getting run out of town after playing heavy minutes last night.
On offense, the Wolves should be able to let Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler go to work. The Pelicans do not really have anyone on their team that can adequately matchup with either of the Wolves wings, although Jrue Holiday can certainly play up a position on defense.
This is going to be a game decided by the starting units. The Pelicans play their bench the third least in the league, the Wolves the least. After last night’s disastrous bench performance, one hopes that the Wolves will be able to see a slight revival from their bench crew, but if Bjelica and Teague are still out, the Wolves are going to be mighty thin.
Last night, Towns played one of his better defensive games of the season. Hopefully, that can continue tonight as the Wolves will direly need him. This game looks like a slog in the making, assuming the Wolves can keep up.
Projected Starting Lineups
Tyus Jones (or Jeff Teague if healthy)
Prediction: Wolves 102 - Pelicans 99. It is no fun to predict a loss, but the Wolves, other than the last matchup, have not played well against the Pelicans for whatever reason. However, Towns certainly has the motivation to play well tonight and I think the team pulls out a tight win on the road.