What To Watch For
Tonight is the first of a two-game set with the New Orleans Pelican(t)s. The last time they took the floor in Downtown Minneapolis, Anthony Edwards greeted them in the most Minnesota nice of ways.
The Minnesota Timberwolves will look to start 2-0 for the third straight season, going up against a Pelicans team it defeated 117-114 back on October 4, leading 65-45 at the half, after which the Wolves starters did not play. Notably, former Memphis Grizzlies and newly-extended center Jonas Valanciunas did not play, along with franchise cornerstone Zion Williamson; Williamson is again out tonight with a foot injury. Not to mention, it was a preseason game, so the game didn’t elicit many consequential takeaways other than that the Pelicans are pretty brutal without their starting front court.
How close tonight’s contest is could simply come down to who is able to stay on the floor for New Orleans.
If the Minnesota plays its cards right, they very well may be able to create a situation where New Orleans is forced to play its backup front court. Only one player (Terrence Ross) had more fouls per game against the Wolves last season than Valanciunas, who averaged 5.3 fouls per game in three contests. Here’s the foul leaderboard among opposing centers (top 10):
When Valanciunas did play, he ranked 10th among centers in points per minute among centers who played more than 20 minutes per game against the Wolves last season.
The great news for Wolves fans is that no matter whether Valanciunas is on the floor or not, this is a good matchup for the Minnesota starting back court.
Edwards played very well last season on offense against both the Pelicans and the Grizzlies (Valanciunas’s former team). He averaged 24.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game in three matchups with New Orleans and in three games against Memphis averaged 22.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.7 assists. The way he was able to pressure the rim against two very large bigs anchoring defenses that primarily played drop coverage is encouraging.
D’Angelo Russell also played well against New Orleans last year, scoring 17 points and dropping 11 dimes in his lone performance against the Pelicans. A few weeks ago, D-Lo registered 19 points on 6/10 FG, five assists, three rebounds and two turnovers, while netting a +18 in 16:27 of play. Again, a preseason game, but an encouraging performance from the Wolves’ offensive conductor nonetheless.
Those two will face off with another dynamic pairing in Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Devonte’ Graham. The Pelicans’ starting back court has accounted for 36.8% of the team’s total scoring through two games, but has struggled profusely against their matchups on defense. Opposing guards are averaging a combined 62 points (8.5 3PT, 7.5 FTM) with excellent efficiency, 16 assists and 16 rebounds per game.
Given that the Pelicans guards are thin and have trouble navigating screens, I would expect a heavy dose of high ball screens to get the Russell and Edwards going down hill and attacking the teeth of a Pelicans defense that has struggled thus far this season.
Russell and Edwards getting into the lane should result in plenty of collapsed defense situations and present ample opportunities for spot-up shooters such as Karl-Anthony Towns, Malik Beasley and Taurean Prince to impact the game from beyond the arc.
On the defensive end, expect an equally successful performance as the one we saw in the opener.
Josh Okogie and Jaden McDaniels were defensive monsters — combining for six steals and four blocks — and now get reinforcements with Patrick Beverley back in the mix tonight after serving his one-game suspension on Wednesday. New Orleans’ back court struggles with physicality, and the Wolves will be able to throw a ton of it at them between those three, and Edwards at the point-of-attack.
As for Brandon Ingram, I’d like to see McDaniels match up with him. The Pelicans’ rising star averaged 19 points on 39% shooting, 3.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 5.0 turnovers per game in three contests against the Wolves last season, and slowing him down will undoubtedly be at the heart of Chris Finch’s defensive game plan. Ingram stands 6-foot-8 at 190 pounds, which is a good match for McDaniels, who is 6-foot-9, 185 pounds.
The Wolves have a clean sheet on the injury report for a regular season for the first time in forever. Let’s hope it stays that way.
- Zion Williamson (right foot fracture)
- Josh Hart (right quadriceps tendinosis)
- Daulton Hommes (right peroneal soreness)
Like I did last year, I’ll offer a betting pick for each game. Last season I went 40-32 (55.5% hit rate). I started things off with a win on Wolves -4.5 on Wednesday and will hopefully keep it rolling here.
Like I mentioned, New Orleans’ defense is horrific; they’ve given up 117 and 128 points in their first two games, respectively, and they are on the second leg of a back-to-back tonight after a fast break fest in Chicago last night. Minnesota scored 124 in the opener behind strong scoring performances from its Big 3, who should have another excellent night tonight. I expect the Wolves offense to run as much as they possibly can, especially in the first half.
The Wolves full-game team total is set at 117.5, but I’d prefer to target the first half, since it’s likely we could have garbage time in the fourth. With that possibility, I’m going to stay away from the 7.5 spread number and look at the Wolves’ team total in the first half, set at 58.5, which they obliterated on Wednesday by scoring 72 points. Expect another strong start at Target Center and bet the Wolves to score over 58.5 first half points.
Let’s keep the good times rolling, Wolves fans.