The Minnesota Timberwolves are set to wrap up a five-game Western Conference road trip for a battle with the New Orleans Pelicans, who are playing on the second leg of a back-to-back after outlasting the Denver Nuggets 115-110 on Friday night.
Here’s a recap from Canis Hoopus New Orleans correspondent Larry Nance Jr.:
Anthony Edwards and Co. will look to make it eight wins in their last nine before returning home for a three-game set at Target Center over the holiday week.
- Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (8-3) at New Orleans Pelicans (6-6)
- When: 6:00 PM CT
- Where: Smoothie King Center
- TV: Bally Sports North (Michael Grady, Jim Petersen and Marney Gellner)
- Radio: Wolves Radio App, KFAN FM 100.3
- Line: Wolves -7.5, Total: 220 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)
Updated as of 5:00 PM CT on Saturday:
- Jaylen Clark (right achilles tendon rupture rehab)
- Jordan McLaughlin (right knee MCL sprain)
- Leonard Miller (G League assignment/lower back contusion)
- Wendell Moore Jr. (G League assignment)
- Jose Alvarado (right ankle sprain)
- E.J. Liddell (G League assignment)
- CJ McCollum (right lung small pneumothorax)
- Trey Murphy III (left knee partial meniscectomy)
- Larry Nance Jr. (right rib fracture)
- Zion Williamson (rest)
What To Watch For
Will Zion Williamson Play?
Before we can answer any other questions we may have about this one, Zion’s status is the most important domino to fall. Williamson did not play in both legs of the team’s first and only back-to-back of the season; he saw 33 minutes of action in the first leg, a win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Nov. 1, and sat the back half. The Pelicans star scored an efficient 26 points on 10/17 shooting, while adding six dimes, four boards and registering a game-high +21 across... 33 minutes on Friday, so time will tell if we see him out there on Saturday.
New Orleans is 6-6 so far this season, with a 5-5 mark in games featuring the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. But they fall off substantially in key categories when the former Duke star is on the bench.
Per PBPStats.com, New Orleans’ offensive rating dips from 113.1 to 108.0 without him, while their opponent at-rim shot frequency (from 20.7% of opponent shots to 32.4%) and shot percentage (from 60.1% to 69.9%) both skyrocket in his absence. Another key element that Zion brings is his ability to collapse the defense in the middle of the floor to create easy kick-outs to corner and slot shooters; without him, it would be much tougher for New Orleans to generate clean looks from those spots, which is crucial against a team like Minnesota who has endured stretches of both struggling to rebound 3-pointers and effectively prevent open looks on them in recent games. Additionally, the Pelicans’ offensive rebounding rate is 5.6% lower with Zion on the bench (94th percentile impact, per Cleaning the Glass). Needless to say, the way the Pelicans play on both ends is quite different without their star.
Wolves fans may remember last season when Zion dropped a career-high 43 points on Minnesota in an incredible back-and-forth affair that came down to the wire on December 28. Williamson scored all 14 points of the Pelicans’ points in the final 2:44 of the fourth quarter in one of the most dominant finishes to a game I’ve ever seen.
The Wolves held New Orleans to a 93.5 half-court offensive rating with an effective field goal percentage of 42.4 without Zion on Nov. 8 (both stats rank in the third percentile, per CTG), so the outlook changes significantly in either direction based on Williamson’s availability.
Minnesota is already 1-0 against New Orleans without Zion this season and went 2-0 in those spots last season. Even with Jaden McDaniels on the wing and the Rudy Gobert/Karl-Anthony Towns up front, hope is part of the strategy against Zion. You can throw as many bodies at him as you want, but his otherworldly blend of strength, quickness, agility, explosiveness and feathery touch mixed with a relentlessly aggressive scoring mindset creates a problem that even the best defense in the league is bound to have some serious issues slowing down.
Can Anthony Edwards Get Back on Track?
Since being named the NBA Western Conference Player of the Week on Monday for his four-game heater last week, Edwards has appeared generally passive on offense and disinterested on defense in the Wolves’ past two games. After taking 25, 22, 21 and 27 shots (and getting to the free throw line a combined 28 times) in the team’s four wins last week, Edwards took just 16 shots in each of the team’s last two games while earning only nine free throws.
While I understand the context of carrying a heavy load against a stretch of great teams playing every other day for 10 days, Edwards has to at least be able to defend at a high level if he’s not going to be as aggressive as he can be offensively. Ant is far too impactful and important on the defensive end, especially on nights when McDaniels is ejected or guarding an incredible scoring talent like Kevin Durant and needs his teammates to hold their own while Durant inevitable gets his. If Williamson plays, it wouldn't surprise me to see Ant get some reps there, but he’ll mostly be guarding Daniels and Brandon Ingram. Given that both of them will see significant on-ball duties and can kill a defense from the middle of the floor, Edwards keeping them at bay so Gobert isn’t over-extended in the mid-range will be imperative.
After a few days off to reset physically, Edwards is in line for another big night as he’ll likely draw 6-foot-7 guard Dyson Daniels. While the Australian native is a stout defender, he struggles with big, physical guards and Edwards fits the bill. Ant only scored seven points on 3/8 shooting with Daniels on him last week, but he often beat Daniels off the bounce and set him up for screens; as a result, Edwards dished out six dimes to one turnover while they matched up.
The Wolves will need another big showing from Edwards to build some momentum as the team enters an important week against strong competition before their schedule softens after Thanksgiving heading into the In-Season Tournament knockout rounds.