New Orleans at Minnesota
Time: 7 PM CT (NBA LP)
Spread: MIN -3.5
Betting odds c/o 5dimes
The New Orleans Pelicans and Minnesota Timberwolves have a couple things in common other than being opponents tonight: Both teams have been disappointments, and both teams are on the outside looking in with the Western Conference playoff picture looking more and more like both teams will be excluded. The Pelicans and T-Wolves are both 20-33 and 3.5 games behind No. 8 Denver, and neither team is being given much of a chance to break through and claim that (ill-fated) 8 seed.
The Timberwolves will enter the game as 3.5 point favorites at home, where Minnesota has gone 13-26 this season. New Orleans is just 6-18 on the road and has lost seven of its past 10 games SU. NBA oddsmakers at 5dimes set the over/under at 213 points and the game will air at 7 PM (Central) on NBA League Pass.
Minnesota really could not have got much worse news than the fact they will be without starting 2-guard Zach LaVine for the remainder of the season. LaVine was showing many signs of breaking through to near-superstar level, but with him out the Wolves are going to be heavily reliant on Ricky Rubio hitting shots (unlikely) and Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns simply playing extra-worldly. That is hardly a winning combination, and Minnesota has gone 5-5 SU over its past 10 games. The Timberwolves snapped a four-game skid last time out with a 112-109 win over the Toronto Raptors, but the losing streak included losses to the Miami Heat and Detroit Pistons, neither of which are juggernauts in their own rights.
The Timberwolves did sign Lance Stephenson to fill the void left by LaVine, but Stephenson has been anything but consistent or stable since leaving the Indiana Pacers several seasons ago. His brief stint in New Orleans early this season was a flop, and after sustaining an injury the Pelicans parted ways with him. Not exactly a hot commodity, the T-Wolves decided to tender a flier on him since little else is going their way and because they really did not have a backup shooting guard to speak of. Shabazz Muhammed is more of a small forward, and his scoring has to take a major up-tick just to keep Minnesota in games. Of course, scoring has not been the primary problem for the Wolves anyway, but lack of defense and veteran leadership are far more to blame for the team’s relative underachievement this season.
Towns also had a terrible time with Pelicans forward Anthony Davis last time. Though Gorgui Dieng drew the primary coverage of Davis, Towns was helpless when switched on to his fellow Kentucky product, and though he has been phenomenal through two seasons, Davis is still clearly the NBA’s best big man at this point.
New Orleans, still though, has lost five of its past six games and has just a 1.2 percent chance of making the playoffs according to BBall Reference, which actually ranks among the highest of odds compared to other prognostication sites such as Five-Thirty-Eight. New Orleans is very much in play for a top-three pick this year, and given the fact that Davis seems to be the only untouchable, it is tough to tender a guess as to what the Pelicans will do in the draft.
Starting point guard Jrue Holiday has drawn interest around the league in trades, but he is also the only reliable offensive threat outside of Davis on the team. The asking price should be relatively high, and teams like the Philadelphia 76ers would much rather take their chance on luring him in free agency than surrender much talent to obtain his expiring contact.
Even so, the Pelicans are in a better spot than most rebuilding teams simply because they have Davis. He plays hard (perhaps even too hard) every night, and if he can avoid sustaining any serious injuries, he is a lock to be a top center for another full decade. As to whether the Pelicans can surround him with enough talent to keep him in the Bayou is another matter, and so far the answer has been a definitive ‘no.’
Despite all these problems with the Pelicans and their abysmal road record, the Wolves seem prepped to take a major tumble in the standings in some sort of tanking effort. While that same sentiment may be applicable to the Pelicans, the fact that this Davis-Towns rivalry carries its own weight, and Davis’ dominance in the last meeting between the clubs, leads us to suspect that New Orleans can triumph as 3.5 point underdogs and win this in one of their more winnable road matches.