Timberwolves Season Series Preview: New Orleans Pelicans

Feb 8, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Tyus Jones (1) dribbles the ball past New Orleans Pelicans guard Toney Douglas (16) in the second half at Target Center. The Pelicans won 116-102. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 8, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Tyus Jones (1) dribbles the ball past New Orleans Pelicans guard Toney Douglas (16) in the second half at Target Center. The Pelicans won 116-102. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports /

This is Part 12 in our series previewing each of the Timberwolves’ opponents and the respective upcoming season series.

Tale of the tape: Minnesota split the season series with New Orleans last year, with the highlight being a 144-109 clobbering on the last day of the 2015-16 season.

To go along with the 35-point win in April, the Wolves also squeaked out a 112-110 victory in New Orleans back in February. There was, of course, the lack of Anthony Davis in these last two games, as he was battling injury, and Karl-Anthony Towns not only noticed but took advantage. His average box score in the two wins: 29 points, 14.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, plus a block and a steal. Add Wiggins, Lavine, and Dieng each scoring in double figures in the two victories, and you have a pretty good recipe for success.

In the two losses, however, the Timberwolves fell by an average margin of 14.5. Anthony Davis was healthy, and Towns’ performance was, at least partially, stymied because of it. New Orleans had an almost completely different starting lineup, and that kept Minnesota off-balance in their approach.

What’s new? The Pelicans were on the rise in 2014-15, but fell back out of the playoffs last season. They added some pieces this year to try to find their way back into the postseason.

Lance Stephenson is beginning this year with his fourth different team in the last three seasons. Perhaps most well-known for blowing in LeBron James’ ear in the playoffs while a member of the Indiana Pacers, Stephenson will add some prowess on the defensive end for a team that ranked 27th in that category a season ago.

He’ll likely start the season off the bench, but could sneak his way into the starting lineup depending on the performance of former Timberwolves player Dante Cunningham and Solomon Hill.

Speaking of Hill, he is also entering his first season in New Orleans after spending the first three seasons of his career with the Pacers. He has battled injury for much of his time in the league but does have experience as a starter.

In 2014-15, his only full season, he averaged almost 30 minutes per game, putting up nine points and four rebounds. The Wolves would definitely have the advantage at the small forward position if Hill finds himself in the starting lineup.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing players in this draft class resides with the Pelicans in Buddy Hield. Buddy, in my opinion, was the best shooter in college last year — and as an Iowa State fan, I watched him crush my heart with frequency. Hopefully he doesn’t do the same thing to the Timberwolves as he often did to my Cyclones…

Hield was great off the dribble in college and could create his own shot, so lock-down defense will be an absolute must. The rookie guard isn’t a bad defender, either, and has deceptively quick hands. Whomever is on the offensive side for the Wolves will have to be sure to take good care of the ball.

More from Timberwolves News

Other key additions that will likely find time in the rotation include E’Twaun Moore and Terrance Jones. Moore comes over from Chicago as a combo guard that can do a little bit of everything. He may split time in the starting lineup with Hield or Langston Galloway, depending on how New Orleans wants to use him.

Terrance Jones comes over from Houston. He’s also spent much of his career hobbled by injury, so he’ll likely see a fairly limited role off the bench. He can put some numbers up while on the floor though, especially on the boards.

Key losses: Toney Douglas, Luke Babbitt, Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon

What’s the same? By far the most interesting match-up in this series will be Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns. Watching these two duke it out like they did last year when Davis was healthy was incredibly entertaining.

With the success Towns had last year against him as a rookie, it will be interesting to see how much he has improved. Even though the Wolves have a much better chance without The Brow in the lineup, games with him healthy and active will be much more fun to watch.

Alexis Ajinca and Omer Asik return as the centers on the roster for the Pelicans. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Ajinca leapfrog Asik in the starting lineup, as he was nearly as productive off the bench and averaging almost three minutes les per game. Ajinca may favor the Timberwolves a bit more though; Minnesota may just be able to run him into the ground with their athleticism.

Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday will also be back, but both are away from the team. Evans is battling knee injury, and time will tell whether or not he will be the same player we are used to seeing.

Holiday is out on personal leave but he will be a more interesting case when he returns. The former All-Star only started a third of the games he played in last season, but had good numbers. A player that can provide 17 points and six assists off the bench if need be is very valuable. That could be cause for concern for Minnesota should the Pelicans decide to utilize him in that role.

My prediction? The Pelicans have talent and depth. That can’t be argued with. But again, if the Timberwolves are the team that many think they are, than they should be capable of at least a split.

Assuming both teams stay healthy, we should see four very competitive games. I don’t see either team blowing any of these match-ups wide open. Owning the paint will be a key in this series, and if the Wolves can win the paint on both ends, they should see a good result.

Next: On Ricky Rubio, Before The NBA

Minnesota sees New Orleans for the first time on November 23rd at the at the best-named arena in professional basketball, the Smoothie King Center.