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Pelicans 121, Wolves 107: Big Difficulties in the Big Easy

Minnesota tripped up in New Orleans in a game that never really found its rhythm

Minnesota Timberwolves v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

You can’t win them all.

But in this case, you can’t always win seven in a row, especially against good teams and without your best player, and the other team with theirs.

The Minnesota Timberwolves came into Monday night 2-0 against the New Orleans Pelicans on the season, with both wins coming against the Pelicans sans Zion Williamson. Tonight was a different story, and coming off of a career-high 43 point game in New Orleans against the Wolves last season, he was back to looking unstoppable against a team that has severe difficulties in guarding him. He finished with 36 points.

The Wolves did a poor job of taking space away from him, and especially in the second half let him get a full head of steam downhill before making first contact. As a result, Minnesota, running with its two centers, lost the points in the paint battle 56-50.

With Zion’s dominance coming off of a heavily-ridiculed NBA Cup Finals game, a bad Rudy Gobert game, a lack of offensive support for Karl-Anthony Towns, and a LOT of whistles throughout the evening, it was a perfect storm of things going sideways.

But hey, at least Jaden McDaniels is back.

Minnesota Timberwolves v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

Towns Island

Towns finished the first half with 15 points and 11 rebounds. He finished the game with 17 points and 12 rebounds.

A lot of the second half struggles stemmed from clear, compounding frustration, and Towns pushing a bit too hard. Tonight was a rare occurrence in which that was pretty reasonable. From the first quarter on, Towns was catching immediate doubles and got his space taken away instantaneously. The Pelicans had good personnel to do this with Herb Jones, and elite defender, being at the point of attack.

Wide open misses from Troy Brown, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and even Naz Reid early on, in spots where New Orleans almost dared them to shoot off of Towns passes, set a defensive tone for what the Pelicans wanted to do early, and the compounding of frustration took place. It eventually led to Towns fouling out.

The Wolves had zero plays score more than 20 points. Naz Reid ended up matching Towns’ 17, as well as Mike Conley, who did a lot of that damage later on in the game.

Minnesota Timberwolves v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Welcome Back, J-Mac(s)

Let’s take a minute to look on the bright side. Minnesota got two hugely important pieces back in the fold.

Jaden McDaniels made his return to the lineup in his first full game since the Wolves played in New Orleans last on November 18. While it was nice to see him out on the floor, he struggled mightily in a game that showed he was just a little bit rusty. His shot selection was questionable, and a second quarter fadeaway that was blocked, turning into a New Orleans transition bucket proved similar to Towns, that McDaniels pressed a bit in an effort to find his form. However, there were bright spots classic to what we’re used to seeing.

Jaden makes his return at a massively important time. Getting your best perimeter defender back in time for a Thursday showdown against Luka Doncic couldn’t be more opportune for the Wolves, especially with Anthony Edwards’ status up in the air.

Speaking of JMac, Jordan McLaughlin made his long-awaited return to the lineup on Monday as well. He spurred an important third quarter Wolves run with Zion Williamson off the floor that had Minnesota showing signs of life. As McLaughlin does, the ball movement was superior and gave good looks to players he shared the floor with, namely a struggling Shake Milton, who looked very comfortable running with McLaughlin in the second unit.

He also had the best highlight of the night, and if my math is correct, the Wolves’ first halfcourt made shot of the season?

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at New Orleans Pelicans Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Did Someone Hear a Whistle?

New Orleans shot 40 free throws to the Wolves’ 19. A big part of this was indeed the fact that the attempts to defend Zion were pretty much deemed useless towards the end of the game. Interesting enough, both teams attempted the same amount of shots inside the three point line (55).

“I think the story of the game was 40 free throw attempts,” Head Coach Chris Finch said afterward. “19 in the third quarter [off of fouls], at least foul calls.”

Finch was clearly agitated, and perhaps danced his way around a fine.

Was it THAT bad? I think at times it definitely tended to be. In a game where Zion Williamson is finding success at the basket and lowering his shoulder, how much physicality are you going to allow? I would argue more than what was. Little to no bumping was allowed, and the result ensued. On the back of that, I would argue a little bit more bumping was allowed on the other end against the likes of Towns and Rudy Gobert, who struggled, and spent a lot of the night barking at officials.

Up Next

Minnesota heads to Dallas for a showdown with Luka Doncic and a Kyrie-less Dallas Mavericks team.

Jaden McDaniels back in the swing of things lightly mitigates a tall task of running into Doncic and bouncy rookie Dereck Lively II. The question of Anthony Edwards looms; a gametime decision Monday, does he make his return on Thursday? If so, is he fully healthy after leaving last Friday’s game against Memphis after five minutes?

A couple things to keep an eye on.