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Wolves at Pelicans: Battling Goliaths

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The Wolves travel to New Orleans to face the Pelicans

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Wolves (28-40) at Pelicans (28-41)
5:00 CST - FS North
Smoothie King Arena

Having DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis on the same team should probably be unfair.

It hasn’t been so far, which could be due to a variety of reasons from lack of time to integrate each player’s skill sets, a discombobulated roster, or perhaps even an overall positional overlap that can never be completely rectified.

However, talent (or life according to Jeff Goldblum), talent finds a way.

When the Pelicans acquired DeMarcus Cousins, which happened legitimately during the All-Star game, they were imagining the duo would be able to overpower the league with their size and skill. To the Pelicans credit, this seems like potentially the perfect time for such an experiment, as they are subverting the pre-conceived notion that small-ball wins championships. In their mind, this was the future.

However, so far since the trade has taken place, the results have been less than impressive. Since the All-Star game, the Pelicans have gone 5-7 with a -1.4 rating. In a couple of the games that the Pelicans have won, Cousins was either absent due to suspension or was not playing in the fourth quarter.

Zach Lowe had a great breakdown earlier this week (link here) about the problems that the duo are facing, which is primarily due to their overlapping skill sets and an ill-fitting roster, as well as the fact that Davis and Cousins are not accustomed to playing with another star. Instead, it has been primarily a your-turn then my-turn type of strategy.

In the first eight games with the duo playing together, the Pelicans were scoring 90.7 points per possession per 100 possessions when Cousins and Davis were on the court. That is a full 10 points worse than the worst offense in the league.

It’s possible that the Wolves will not be getting a chance to play against Cousins and Davis together tonight, as Cousins is questionable for tonight’s game after missing Friday’s game against the Rockets.

However, even if Cousins does not play, the Wolves will have their hands full in containing Anthony Davis. In the last matchup in early February, Davis glided his way to an easy 42 points on 16 of 22 shooting from the field. During that game, it seemed as if Davis was untouched on most of his baskets, as it was almost as if the Wolves were allergic to playing defense in the paint. The Pelicans won that game 122-106.

The Wolves themselves are also on a downswing following their recent losses to the Celtics and the Heat, both games of which were also on the road. After the brief period of legitimate excitement, when the Wolves beat the Warriors, Jazz, Wizards, and Clippers, the team simply looks out of gas. The defensive rotations are falling apart and the offensive burden on Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Ricky Rubio is beginning to look like it is weighing heavily on the trio.

With Nemanja Bjelica out, Shabazz Muhammad ice-cold from three, and a cooked Brandon Rush, the Wolves are desperate for some additional scoring punch and there is not an easy answer on the roster. Last game, Towns, Wiggins, and Rubio combined for 77 of the team’s 105 points. Someone needs to step up if the Wolves are going to remain competitive in this final stretch of the season.

The Pelicans are also in a similar state of dysfunction as they try to sort out their roster and deal with a plethora of injuries. This should be the game where the Wolves get back on track to their winning ways, but it is certainly an even matchup between the two teams.

Expected Starting Lineups

Timberwolves

Ricky Rubio
Andrew Wiggins
Brandon Rush
Gorgui Dieng
Karl-Anthony Towns

Pelicans
(Their lineups have been changing almost every game, so this is just my best guess)

Jrue Holiday
E’Twaun Moore
Solomon Hill
Dante Cunningham
Anthony Davis

Injuries

Timberwolves - Zach LaVine (out for year), Nikola Pekovic (out for year), Nemanja Bjelica (out for year)

Pelicans - Omer Asik - Out (illness), Quincy Pondexter - Out (left knee), DeMarcus Cousins - Questionable(left knee soreness/right rib contusion)

Four Factors

As we always do in game previews, let’s take a look at how the Wolves and Pelicans match up using the Four Factors. Reminder, the Four Factors are effective field goal percentage (eFG%), turnover percentage (TOV%), offensive rebounding percentage (ORB%), and free throw rate (FTR).

Factor / Wolves / Pelicans

eFG% / 51.0% / 50.0%

TOV% / 14.5 / 13.1

ORB% / 27.4% / 18.5%

FTR / .281 / .262

The Wolves almost have a clean sweep over the Pelicans in the four-factors, which is not exactly surprising as the Wolves have simply been a better team throughout the season. Even though their records are virtually identical, the Wolves dominate the Pelicans in Simple Rating System and Net Rating.

Wolves: 0.1 net rating, 0.21 SRS

Pelicans: -2.2 net rating, -2.25 SRS

However, with the four factors, the Wolves have a clear advantage in offensive rebounding, which they should certainly try to capitalize on during today’s matinee game.

Prediction: Wolves 102 - Pelicans 95