The New Orleans Pelicans’ two games this season against the Minnesota Timberwolves have been vastly different.
Minnesota registered a season-high shooting percentage in building a 30-point third-quarter lead while running past the Pelicans on New Year’s Day. Then, with Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis out after injuring his index finger and Minnesota center Nikola Pekovic sidelined with a right ankle injury, the Timberwolves won 88-77 in a game in which both teams plodded. The 77 points are a season-low for the Pelicans.
The Pelicans (21-27) and Timberwolves (24-25) meet Friday night at Smoothie King Center for the first time this season. And, Minnesota has won four in a row against New Orleans, although all on its homecourt.
“We know they’re a good team; they beat us the last few times we’ve played them,” said point guard Brian Roberts. “We have to go out there with that chip on our shoulder and just get a win.”
Pekovic, a big pain to the Pelicans the past two seasons, is listed as out indefinitely. On Wednesday, however, it was determined he no longer needed to wear a walking boot.
Of more relevance is whether All-Star power forward Kevin Love will play. Love fell hard in the Timberwolves’ home victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday and sat out Wednesday’s loss at Oklahoma City in which Minnesota was surprisingly competitive.
Whether he will play will be a game-time decision, but it appears likely he will. Love received treatment before the Oklahoma City game and was in the starting lineup before being ruled out.
With Pekovic out, Love has put the onus on himself, he said, to give the team an extra lift. He is scoring 25.6 points per game this season, third in the NBA, but in his past five has averaged 32.6.
The Pelicans, meanwhile, keep making strides. Defensively, including the previous Minnesota game, they have held opponents to 100 points or less in seven of 10 games.
New Orleans has won five of its past seven, and after being blown away in the fourth quarter by the San Antonio Spurs on Monday night, bounced back, getting a lead and holding off the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday in a big final quarter.
Roberts said the Pelicans, who also have done better in making sure they don’t have bad third quarters of late, are keeping their composure better. But the Timberwolves have had a big quarter in turning back the Pelicans both times this season.
“I think being in that situation, whether we’re up or down, we have to stay together and keep playing our game,” Roberts said. “We just have to keep trying and keep competing. They’ve had our number the past few times, but we know what to expect.”
Guard-forward Tyreke Evans sat out the last game and the second half against the Spurs with a rib injury. With three key players already sidelined, Evans’ status is day-to-day, although he likely will miss a week, coach Monty Williams said.
“When we have the numbers so low as far as personnel, we try to make up for that by just playing hard every time we get out on the floor,” said Roberts, who scored 19 points against Atlanta, including two big baskets down the final stretch. “And, that’s what’s given us the chance to be in games and to win them, trying to outwork teams and play hard.”
Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio and backup J.J. Barea are adept at running the pick-and-roll, which helps Minnesota to score well in the lane even without Pekovic. Spurs point guard Tony Parker put on a clinic with the pick and roll in leading San Antonio past New Orleans, which has had its share of difficulties defending it this season.
Friday’s game is the final of a four-game homestand in which the Pelicans stand 2-1. After the T-wolves, the Pelicans hit the road for games at Brooklyn on Sunday, Toronto on Monday and Milwaukee on Wednesday before breaking for All-Star Weekend and a much-needed rest.
“(Beating Minnesota) would be big,” Roberts said. “Having the All-Star break so close, we don’t want to focus on All-Star and looking forward to those days off. Getting this last game at home would help us be confident on the road.”