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Game Preview #82: Wolves vs Pelicans

Minnesota wraps up the regular season with a must-win game against New Orleans that will determine which Play-In Game the Wolves compete in.

Minnesota Timberwolves v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Game Info

Injury Reports



  • Rudy Gobert — Back Spasms
  • Jaylen Nowell — Left Knee Tendinopathy
  • Austin Rivers — Illness
  • Karl-Anthony Towns — Right Calf Strain


  • Naz Reid — Left Scaphoid Fracture
  • Matt Ryan — Two-Way Contract

New Orleans


  • Jose Alvarado — Right Tibial Stress Reaction
  • E.J. Liddell — Right ACL Surgery Recovery
  • Zion Williamson — Right Hamstring Strain

What To Watch For

Phoenix Suns v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

Big Game Ant

Anthony Edwards is built for the bright lights and the big moments. He put it on full display down the stretch of last season as a blossoming superstar who almost won a series as the alpha wolf at just 20 years old.

The Timberwolves’ franchise cornerstone light up the Los Angeles Clippers for 30 points on 47.6/45.5/83.3 shooting splits in his first career postseason game, before averaging 25.2 points on 45.4/40.4/82.4 shooting, 4.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.4 stocks across six playoff games against the Memphis Grizzlies last season.

When the stakes rise, Edwards’ play does too. While others get tight, press, and make poor decisions, Ant is as cool as can be and finds calm amidst the chaos, giving defenders buckets and the crowd a reason to roar at the history he aims to write.

So when the New Orleans Pelicans roll into Target Center later today, you can bet that Edwards — who is averaging 30 points per game in April and peaking at the right time — will be ready.

Whether he sees Herb Jones, Trey Murphy III or a combination of the two, Edwards will need to win his matchup and power an offense fresh off setting a franchise record with 151 points in a win over the San Antonio Spurs yesterday. Both are long, rangy defenders capable of forcing him east-to-west instead of north-to-south, unafraid to get physical at the point of attack. Expect a heavy dosage of high ball screens from Rudy Gobert or Karl-Anthony Towns to either open up driving lanes for Edwards or switch opportunities to dance with Jonas Valančiūnas and get the Pelicans’ only true center in foul trouble early.

Bally Sports North’s Lea B. Olsen spoke with Edwards postgame yesterday, and the 21-year-old star vowed to be aggressive early once again today.

If Ant sees his first few go down, look out, because Black Jesus will host an Easter Sunday Service to remember.

Minnesota Timberwolves v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Jaden McDaniels and the Timberwolves’ Defensive Gameplan

It goes without saying, but keeping Jaden McDaniels on the floor should be atop the front page of Wolves’ defensive gameplan in bolded, italicized, underlined 128-point font. The NBA All-Defense First Team candidate has a total of 11 fouls in his two games played against the Pelicans this season, but thankfully hasn’t missed too much time on the floor. Despite the fouls, he played 34 minutes in each of the teams’ first two matchups.

McDaniels spent 50.7% of his defensive possessions guarding Zion Williamson in the first matchup (with the other 49.3% split between CJ McCollum, Jaxson Hayes and Murphy III since Ingram was out). Two weeks later, Slim spent 41.7% of his trips guarding Ingram and 22.7% of them guarding McCollum. The Pels’ offensive engines combined to score 10 points on 5/8 shooting from the floor, dish out five assists to one turnover, and draw one shooting foul. While the efficiency was there, McDaniels did an excellent job limiting the pair’s looks to score, and New Orleans managed an offensive rating of only 93.7 in the half-court (36th percentile per Cleaning the Glass). The Wolves won 111-102 largely as a result of that defensive effort.

Although Ingram has only faced the Timberwolves three times since McDaniels was drafted in 2020, he is plenty familiar with key Minnesota defenders he may draw for stretches of today’s game.

The Pelicans’ star has been incredible of late, putting up 28.0 points on 50.8/38.5/91.1 shooting, 6.8 rebounds, 8.5 assists to 3.4 turnovers, and 1.1 stocks across 36.7 minutes per game over his last 10 contests, with an average plus-minus of +10.5 in that span. Forcing him to be a passer is the best bet, considering New Orleans’ only real scoring threats outside of Ingram are McCollum and Murphy III, and their spacing in the half-court is very poor.

You could make an argument that the best way to limit Ingram is to get physical with him using Edwards, as the data shows that physical wings and guards (such as Jimmy Butler, Lu Dort or Malcolm Brogdon) do the best job of slowing him down and making him uncomfortable.

But when you combine Jaden’s numbers above with the fact that McDaniels ranks 13th in terms of least amount of points allowed to Ingram per 100 possessions in the entire league since the start of the 2020-21 season (and that similar defenders such as Jonathan Kuminga, Jarred Vanderbilt, Aaron Gordon and Andrew Wiggins have found comparable success), the choice is clear.

Ingram scored just 13 points on 4/12 shooting from 2 and 0/6 from 3, dished out five assists to four turnovers, and was a -19 in 25 minutes in his lone game against the Wolves this season with McDaniels as his primary assignment (41.7% of Ingram’s offensive possessions). Keeping McDaniels out of foul trouble and on the floor will be absolutely critical.

Minnesota Head Coach Chris Finch wasn’t afraid to throw different looks at Ingram, though. Austin Rivers (22.3%) held Ingram to 1/4 shooting and Kyle Anderson (8.4%) didn’t allow a point on four Ingram shot attempts.

That didn’t include Edwards, because McDaniels’ fellow third-year star did an incredible job shutting down the high-powered McCollum, whom Edwards has found success against since Ant’s rookie year (see table). McCollum struggled in the second matchup with Edwards this season (when Ant was his primary assignment, unlike the first game), scoring just six points on 0/3 shooting from 2 and 2/5 from 3.

Edwards will likely guard McCollum with Mike Conley opening as the chaser on Murphy III, who is averaging 21.7 points on 51.9/45.5/90.7 over the Pelicans’ last 10 games and a big reason why Head Coach Willie Green’s squad has gone 8-2 over that span against tough competition, all without Williamson.

The good news is that no matter how they play defense, whether it’s a deep drop (bad idea with Ingram and McCollum’s collective mid-range talent), short drop, or a high wall, they have players who not only have plenty of experience dealing with both Ingram and McCollum, but also have found success in those battles. Even if Rivers doesn’t play or Conley doesn’t guard McCollum, the Wolves will be able to lean on their respective experience to help gain an edge in their preparation.

In summary, the Wolves will likely assign McDaniels to Ingram and Edwards to McCollum. The Wolves’ third-year studs have won those matchups since they were drafted in 2020. Here’s how Ingram has fared against Slim and McCollum versus Ant:

  • Ingram: 32 points on 12/32 FG (37.5%), 3/9 3PT (33.3%), 16 assists, 16 turnovers in eight games
  • McCollum: 17 points on 6/19 FG (31.6%), 3/9 3PT (33.3%), 6 assists, 0 turnovers in four games

Buckle up.

New Orleans Pelicans v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Wolves Desperately Need an Aggressive Karl-Anthony Towns

The Pelicans own the league’s second-best defense over the last 10 games (106.8) in large part because they’ve relied upon their perimeter stoppers, Jones and Murphy, to slow down opposing wings. If that happens again Sunday, Karl-Anthony Towns will need to play a major role in the scoring department against a team he has dominated since Valančiūnas arrived in the summer of 2021.

Towns is averaging 27.8 points on 48.1/38.5/79.3 shooting splits, 9.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 3.3 stocks across 36.2 minutes per game in four contests. KAT registered a positive plus-minus in three of those four games, with the lone exception being a game he was -2. That 27.8 PPG mark is second only to his 30.8 PPG mark against the Houston Rockets.

He normally thrives when he can extend the defense and bring a slow-footed big man out onto the perimeter and either shoot 3s or drive to the rim. The Pelicans have two of them in Valančiūnas and Willy Hernangómez, both of whom have been two of Towns’ 20 most favorable matchups over the last three seasons. However, given he isn’t 100% yet, doesn’t have the same quick first step he had pre-injury, and is playing on the second leg of a back-to-back for the first time since returning, he may not enjoy the same success.

With that said, if Gobert is able to play, I’d be surprised if he draws Valančiūnas for more than a few possessions here and there when Towns plays the 5 and Valančiūnas is on the floor; expect Towns to see Hernangómez and Larry Nance Jr., who could be a problematic matchup for KAT. The former No. 1 overall pick struggles to score against forwards more than any other position group he faces.

Nance Jr.’s rotation pattern is generally as follows:

  • Play from 5:00 or so to end of first quarter
  • Rest for first few minutes of second quarter
  • Play until halftime
  • Play from 4:00 or so until end of third quarter
  • He will close over Valančiūnas if they go small, but unlikely against the Wolves’ two-big lineup

That matches pretty decently with Towns’ rotation pattern of late, at least in the first and third quarters. Towns has been coming out at the first media timeout (under 7:00), then re-entering either just before or during the second media timeout (under 3:00), playing until the end of the first and briefly into the second, before playing the final 2:00 or so in the half. Towns follows a similar pattern in the second half, but plays more in the fourth than he does in the second.

If KAT draws Nance Jr. while playing the 5, expect the Timberwolves to ride post-ups as a primary source of offense, just like they did to close the game to secure a win over a Brooklyn Nets team that went small to end the game.

Given the length they can put around Nance Jr. with the likes of Josh Richardson, Dyson Daniels and Naji Marshall (or the aforementioned Jones and Murphy III), expect the Pelicans to double those post-ups. If that happens, KAT will need to make quick decisions in traffic, like he did in the playoffs last season when Memphis doubled him (both from the high and low sides).

Doubling won’t work if the Wolves shoot the ball from 3 like they did yesterday (24/43, 55.8%).

No matter who Green assigns to guard Towns in the starting five — whether it’s Jones, Ingram or Valančiūnas — KAT has to be aggressive. His best skill is not passing, or being a decoy. KAT is an All-NBA player because of he’s the best shooting big to ever play basketball and can score as a driver, on the block, in the mid-range, as a PnR roller, PnR popper, or spotting up from distance. He cannot be passive, timid, or let his emotions cloud his decision-making on the floor. If he is confident, does everything quick, and gets up around 20 shots, the Wolves will be extremely tough to beat.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Rudy Gobert’s Health

Wolves fans everywhere woke up with a classic feelings mix of angst and excitement before it quickly turned to denial. The Timberwolves announced around 8:30 AM local time that Gobert is questionable with back spasms.

It would be a huge blow for the Wolves, who desperately need size inside going against Valančiūnas and already without Naz Reid. Towns has struggled with foul trouble trying to defend Valančiūnas, who has a knack for getting underneath Towns’ skin with his physicality and willingness to talk a little trash while he’s out there.

Gobert has held Valančiūnas to 13.6 points and 11.4 rebounds per game over his last nine matchups with the Pels big man, and Valančiūnas has been a negative in six of those matchups. With the Lithuanian’s ability to wedge between defenders and corral offensive rebounds, Anderson and Edwards will need to be factors on the defensive glass to help Towns out in the event Gobert can’t give it a go. New Orleans is second in defensive rebounding rate (76.3%) and 12th in offensive rebounding rate (28.6%), so treading water — at the very least — will be essential if the Wolves want to come away with a victory.