Reeling Pelicans face nemesis in Timberwolves
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The Minnesota Timberwolves are probably one of the last teams the New Orleans Pelicans want to face right now.
The Pelicans have lost six of their last seven games and they have to face a Timberwolves team that has beaten them five straight times. The teams close out 2018 when they meet Monday night in New Orleans.
The Pelicans (16-21) are concluding a stretch of three home games in four days that began with a 114-112 victory against Dallas on Friday, which was followed by a 108-104 loss to Houston the next night.
The Wolves (17-19) are coming off a 113-104 victory at Miami on Sunday, but fatigue might be an issue for them as it was for New Orleans against the Rockets.
"It did affect us," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said after All-Star forward Anthony Davis played nearly 43 minutes (scoring a season-high 48 points) in the front end of the back-to-backs.
Gentry rode Davis more than he would have preferred, but New Orleans needed the win and it's short-handed. Starters Nikola Mirotic and Elfrid Payton have been sidelined for an extended period and reserve forward Darius Miller played limited minutes against Dallas and sat out against Houston because of illness.
New Orleans is hopeful of getting back Payton, who has missed six weeks because of surgery to repair a fractured finger, sometime this week, perhaps as soon as Monday.
"No one is going to make me believe that we are not going to get it turned around," Gentry said. "We'll get guys back in the roles they're comfortable in. There's still a lot of basketball left to be played, and I think we are going to be OK."
The Pelicans have had difficulty closing out games. They had lost seven of their last eight games decided by five or fewer points before edging the Mavericks, but then they lost the tight game to the Rockets.
"I think sometimes you just need to figure out a way at the end of the day to really be able to close it out," guard Jrue Holiday said. "I'd rather be there than losing by 10, 15 points or getting blown out or feeling like we gave up. But man we never give up, and I feel like I can always rest my head at night knowing that we are always going to play hard."
The Wolves beat the Pelicans 107-100 on Nov. 14 in the only previous meeting this season. Minnesota won all four meetings last season, prevailing by an average of 13.3 points.
Minnesota, which lost a 123-120 overtime game at home against Atlanta on Friday, bounced back to beat the Heat to start a three-game road trip that ends in Boston. Miami had won six of its last seven.
Karl-Anthony Towns led the Wolves with 34 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists and six blocked shots.
"Things aren't going to be easy," forward Robert Covington told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune of the road trip. "These teams are in a playoff race of their own. We have to go out and we have to play good basketball in order for us not to fall back too much to where we have to play more on our heels than we have to."
Covington added 16 points against Miami and six Minnesota players scored in double figures.
Updated December 31, 2018