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Game 15, Pelicans at Wolves: Trust the Process

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Anthony Davis and the Pelicans visit the new-look Timberwolves

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Timberwolves (5-9) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (7-6)

7:00pm CST

ESPN

For the first time since last season’s playoffs, the focus for the Timberwolves is once again primarily on the play of the team on the floor. The black cloud that was hanging over this team with Jimmy Butler is gone, and there is even hope for a successful end to the season with the additions of Dario Saric and Robert Covington.

The two major additions from the Philadelphia 76ers will make their debut in the Timberwolves uniform tonight, and surely all eyes will be on them and how they are incorporated into the rotation. Both players add shooting that will surely be welcomed to this team, but Robert Covington’s defense might be the best singular attribute that Minnesota gains from this trade.

While Jimmy Butler had the reputation of being an All-NBA defender, his actual effort on that end of the floor had been ... not so good. Covington is the only player in the NBA this year who’s averaging over 1.8 steals and 1.8 blocks per game. His length is extremely disruptive, and it’s going to be awesome to see that in action tonight.

In general, it’s just going to be fun to watch this team play while knowing that this is, for the most part, the team that will be out there for the rest of the season. It feels like a new beginning for Minnesota, and they probably wish it was as the tumultuous season has resulted in a 5-9 start.

I can’t express enough how excited I am to see these new-look Wolves, but we don’t know exactly how everything will look yet. It’ll be important to watch for how Thibs handles the rotation. He previously stated that he prefers a strict 9-man rotation. If he stays true to this, there’ll be a few regular players that lose their minutes. With the addition of Saric, Gorgui Dieng feels like a likely candidate to lose his minutes. Outside of that, we don’t really know.

As for the Pelicans, they’re coming off of their best win of the season, a win at Toronto on Monday night. The obvious headliner for the Pelicans is always Anthony Davis, and rightfully so. He is simply amazing, and it’ll be important for KAT to try to keep pace with Davis on both ends of the floor tonight if the Wolves want to have a shot to win.

The second wheel for New Orleans, Jrue Holiday, is going to pose different kinds of problems for Minnesota tonight. If you’re not familiar with Holiday’s defensive prowess after his 1st Team All-Defense selection last year, you’ll become familiar tonight.

The casual fan mostly got introduced to Holiday’s defensive dominance in the playoffs last year when he swarmed Damian Lillard into a terrible performance. His dominance has continued into this season. Take this video of Holiday defending Zach Lavine as the first example.

Just in case LaVine wasn’t a strong enough example for you, here’s Holiday making Kawhi Leonard look like that one guy at every pick-up game who really should move the ball, yet refuses to do so.

Here is what Holiday has been able to do against the opposing team’s best perimeter scorers over the past four games.

For those counting at home, that’s a combined 11 for 45 from those players. The point here is that whomever Holiday spends most of his time on this evening is probably in for a rough night. This seems like an especially tough matchup for a player like Wiggins who doesn’t have the cleanest handle. With Holiday taking away the best opposing wing scorer, and Davis’ dominance down low, points may be hard to come by tonight for the Wolves.

Someone is going to have to step up and take over some shot creation duties tonight. We don’t know who Holiday will be guarding for sure, but it’s likely one of Teague/Wiggins to start and then Rose once he comes into the game.

Luckily for the Wolves, Dario Saric might be the man for the job. Saric is capable with the ball in his hands and is a crafty passer. His offensive capabilities could really help Minnesota out tonight.

Lastly, and stop me if you’ve heard this before, the Timberwolves need to figure out a way to improve their rebounding. It’s almost comical how terrible they are on the defensive glass on a nightly basis. It’d be easy to point the finger at Towns since he’s the big piece down low, and he’s certainly not without blame. He rarely, if ever, boxes his man out.

However, the problem runs much deeper than that. Taj Gibson is not a very strong rebounder at the PF spot, and the problems only gets worse as you look down the line to Andrew Wiggins. The one wing who does crash the glass is Josh Okogie, and it will be a necessity that the other wings/guards rebound with as much effort as Okogie does to make up for Gibson’s poor rebounding.

Projected Lineups*

Wolves

Jeff Teague

Andrew Wiggins

Robert Covington

Dario Saric

Karl-Anthony Towns

Pelicans

Elfrid Payton

Jrue Holiday

E’Twaun Moore

Nikola Mirotic

Anthony Davis

*I have no idea what Thibs is going to do with this new starting lineup, but this is what most of us hope to see for Minnesota

Injury Report:

Minnesota - Andrew Wiggins (quad) questionable, Jeff Teague (knee) questionable

New Orleans - Elfrid Payton (ankle) game-time decision