Jaxson Hayes and Minnesota's Jaden McDaniels rise for a rebound

Behind the Numbers presented by Entergy: Pelicans at Timberwolves (5/1/21)

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

A look at three key numbers related to Saturday’s game at Target Center between New Orleans and Minnesota (7 p.m. Central, Bally Sports New Orleans, ESPN Radio New Orleans 100.3 FM):

3: New Orleans games behind 10th-place Golden State (31-32) in the Western Conference standings, with nine contests remaining for both teams, including three against each other. A half hour prior to the Pelicans (28-35) tipping off in Minnesota, the Warriors will commence their Saturday 6:30 p.m. road game against Houston, then head east to visit New Orleans for a Monday/Tuesday back-to-back in the Smoothie King Center. One of the primary objectives for the Pelicans in 2020-21 was to play in meaningful late-regular season games, something that will occur in Week 20 of the NBA slate if they can be within three (or two) games back of the Warriors entering Monday’s tilt. Unlike Golden State’s Steph Curry and Draymond Green, New Orleans’ top players do not possess much playoff or big-game experience, with Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball seeking their first NBA postseason appearances. For the Pelicans to have a reasonable chance to finish 10th, they may need to win all three head-to-head meetings with the Warriors, including a May 14 game in San Francisco.

4: Current winning streak for Minnesota, as well as where the Timberwolves rank among the 30 NBA teams in defensive efficiency since the streak began a week ago with a surprising victory at Utah. Minnesota has made tangible strides under head coach Chris Finch, a former Pelicans assistant, sporting a 13-20 record with Finch at the helm, after starting the campaign 7-24. The current four-game win streak is part of a longer 8-6 stretch for the Wolves that extends back to April 5. Over the course of the entire season, Minnesota has the league’s third-worst defense (allowing 114.6 points per 100 possessions), but cut that number to 104.7 while beating Utah twice, Houston and Golden State.

6: Speaking of better defense recently, New Orleans finished April as the NBA’s sixth-best defensive team, allowing 108.6 points per 100 possessions (via NBA.com), behind only Philadelphia, Utah, Washington, New York and Toronto. Meanwhile, the Pelicans placed 28th in offensive efficiency last month, scoring 108.4 points per 100. Both of those recent trends are the opposite of what took place from December through March, but the latter can at least partly be explained by injuries making it more difficult for New Orleans to generate points and shoot accurately from the perimeter. Josh Hart hasn’t played since April 1, while Nickeil Alexander-Walker’s last appearance was April 4.

PREVIOUS GAME STARTING LINEUPS

NEW ORLEANS (28-35, 11TH IN WEST)

Thursday win at Oklahoma City

Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Willy Hernangomez

Notes: This group is 3-1, also registering a win vs. Boston and the Clippers, along with a loss to Phoenix. It’s the second-most successful multi-game first unit for New Orleans in 2020-21. The combination of Steven Adams, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Bledsoe, Ingram and Williamson is 5-1. … The Pelicans have only used 13 different starting lineups, a relatively low number during an NBA season greatly affected by injuries and health and safety protocols. … New Orleans’ primary starting lineup has logged a total of 594 minutes and is 16-24.

MINNESOTA (20-44, 14TH IN WEST)

Thursday win vs. Golden State

Ricky Rubio, Anthony Edwards, Josh Okogie, Jaden McDaniels, Karl-Anthony Towns

Notes: This group is 8-4, including starting each of the past eight games, going 6-2 during that span and beating Miami, Utah (twice) and Golden State. No other Minnesota starting lineup that’s been used more than once boasts a winning record. … This five-man lineup has logged a team-high 154 minutes this season. … Minnesota swept Utah 3-0 this season. The only other teams the Timberwolves have defeated more than once are Houston (2-1), New Orleans (2-0) and Sacramento (2-1).

PELICANS KEYS TO VICTORY PRESENTED BY FANDUEL

NO ROLE PLAYERS ROLLING

Some of Minnesota’s lesser-known players have feasted against New Orleans this season, a big factor in the Timberwolves going 2-0 head-to-head and dominating. In the Jan. 23 matchup, Naz Reid scored 20 points, while Jarred Vanderbilt’s double-double featured 16 points and 11 rebounds. On March 11, Jaylen Nowell racked up a career-high 28 points off the bench and fellow reserve McDaniels tallied 20 points. Nowell’s 28 points were 10 more than he’s scored in any other game over his two NBA seasons.

PROTECT THE BALL

New Orleans committed 21 turnovers while losing in Minneapolis in January, then coughed up 18 at home March 11, for an average of 19.5 per game against the Wolves. The Pelicans need to build on a better performance Thursday at Oklahoma City, where they only gave up 12 turnovers.

BILLY BALL

Hernangomez, James Johnson, Naji Marshall and Jaxson Hayes provided valuable contributions Thursday vs. the Thunder – with the latter three coming off the bench – helping the Pelicans overcome 1/19 three-point shooting from their starters. Adams remains out due to injury, putting Hernangomez in a key spot, matching up against Towns at center.

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