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Game Preview #35: Wolves at Pelicans

Looking to bounce back from a two-game losing streak, the Minnesota Timberwolves will face off with a formidable Western Conference opponent in the New Orleans Pelicans.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Miami Heat Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Game Info

What To Watch For

Tightening Up the Margins

Facing off against a depleted Miami Heat team in their last outing, the Wolves accumulated 22 turnovers and gave up 13 offensive rebounds, and the Heat squeaked out a 113-100 victory.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Miami Heat Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

This iteration of the Wolves struggles to do the little things: taking care of the ball, losing track of their man off the ball, and missing box outs. Against a New Orleans Pelicans team making themselves known as a contender in the Western Conference, it’s imperative the Wolves shore up the aspects on the margins.

The Pelicans are a team primed to capitalize on the Wolves' sloppy play. The current number two seed in the west gets the second most deflections in the league (17.4), recovers the third most loose balls (5.3), grabs the ninth most offensive rebounds (11.8), and are second in steals per game.

The Wolves are more than likely aware of the energetic nature of this Pelicans team and their standing in the conference. There’s more motivation to perform in this upcoming game than a random game in December against a banged-up Heat team, but if the Wolves’ lack of focus carries over, the Wolves could be in for a long night.

They are an aggressive defensive team with size and strength in the frontcourt, especially with Pelicans forward Zion Williamson returning from a three-game absence.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Miami Heat Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Duel in the Paint

Williamson lives in the paint. Rudy Gobert does as well. It will be a battle on the interior to see which player comes out on top. What Williamson lacks in size, he makes up with sheer force and quickness around the rim. Take away his left, he’ll draw a defender to his right before suddenly cutting back to his dominant hand.

The Duke product averages the most field goal attempts within five feet of the basket and is tied in first with Giannis Antetokounmpo for field goals converted around the hoop. Jaden McDaniels will most likely start as Williamson’s primary defender, with Gobert on Jonas Valuncians. McDaniels has the length and quickness to match Williamson but will need Gobert to back him up.

Gobert is coming off a rough game in South Beach on both ends, detailed here by our Mike O’Hagan.

In particular, the Wolves just need more from Rudy Gobert. He was just not a factor at all on either end, and was routinely out-worked by a two-way player in Orlando Robinson, who had 7 of Miami’s 13 offensive rebounds. Single game plus/minus is funky, but Gobert’s figure of -14 matched the eye test tonight.

Miami Heat two-way, rookie center Orlando Robinson out-played Gobert on the boards. On offense, Gobert had issues catching the ball in the paint and making a play. Timberwolves Head Coach Chris Finch benched the $38 million center down the stretch of the game for Naz Reid, who finished with 21 points and 11 boards.

But Gobert needs to stay on the floor against a Pelicans team that plays a true big at all times, sometimes even two, including Jonas Valančiūnas, Jaxson Hayes, Larry Nance Jr., and Willy Hernangómez capable bigs in the rotation. Mix in Williamson, and there are a lot of interior players on the roster

Comparing the Pelicans’ size with the Wolves, the Wolves are still without key front-court pieces in Taurean Prince and Karl Anthony-Towns, while Kyle Anderson is questionable after missing four straight games with back spasms. The team has resorted to lineups with four guards. That might not fly against the birds from down south.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Miami Heat Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Making a Statement Win

The Wolves are now on a two-game losing streak falling to the Heat and the Boston Celtics. It doesn’t get easier from here. Following the Pelicans matchup, the Wolves will play the Milwaukee Bucks on the road. There’s a lighter matchup in the Detroit Pistons after that, but they’re a feisty defensive team. Then, the Wolves will go on a west coast road trip facing off a gauntlet of opponents, including the Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers, and Los Angeles Clippers.

The Wolves need to search out a high-level win and get out of their slump. It’s tough to do with so many absences, but the games against the Celtics and Heat were both winnable. The Pelicans are 21-12 and 14-4 at home. Minnesota winning on the road would be a huge confidence booster moving forward.

Although it came in a loss, the Timberwolves shot 15 of 34 from 3. Anthony Edwards had a stellar day from the field, finishing with 29 points on 11 of 16 from the field and five of eight from long range. Edwards had a great stretch of games heading into Christmas, where he started to blend his scoring gravity and playmaking. Exploring more as a primary creator will benefit the Wolves now and moving into the future.

For the Wolves right now, it’s all about tightening up the little things and allowing themselves a chance to win instead of giving it all away.

Injury Report

Minnesota Timberwolves

  • Kyle Anderson: QUESTIONABLE - Back spasms
  • Jordan McLaughlin: OUT — Left calf strain
  • Taurean Prince: OUT — Right shoulder subluxation
  • Karl-Anthony Towns: OUT — Right calf strain

New Orleans Pelicans

  • Dyson Daniels: PROBABLE - Non-covid; illness
  • Trey Murphy III: PROBABLE - Non-covid; illness
  • Zion Williamson: PROBABLE - Return to competition reconditioning
  • Herbert Jones: QUESTIONABLE - Health and safety protocols
  • Brandon Ingram: OUT - Left great toe; contusion
  • E.J. Liddell: OUT - Right knee; ACL injury recovery