Game of the Night: New Orleans Pelicans vs. Minnesota Timberwolves

Dec 18, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic (14) against the Portland Trail Blazers at Target Center. The Timberwolves defeated the Trail Blazers 120-109. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Happy New Year to all! We have five games today, including our Game of the Night. The undercard includes Dallas going to Washington, Indiana vs. Toronto, Philadelphia vs. Denver, and Charlotte going against the Los Angeles Clippers. The two games I suggest to watch are Dallas at Washington and Indiana at Toronto. The Mavericks and Wizards are two teams with playoffs aspirations. Wall and Beal should carve up the Mavericks defense, while Dirk should continue to hit fall-away jumpers. As for Indiana-Toronto, the Pacers are one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, while the Raptors lead the tragic Atlantic Division. Personally, I feel as if Toronto is teetering on the tanking line. If they win, they should push for their division, but if they go on a losing streak, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Amir Johnson can all be shipped out tomorrow. Who knows? Either way, both games will provide some fun basketball, as well as some intrigue for Toronto, Washington, and Dallas.

The Game of the Night goes to New Orleans vs. Minnesota. The Minnesota Timberwolves are 15-16, with some tough losses recently. Kevin Love is incredible (26.5 points, 13.7 rebounds per game), but the criticism of Ricky Rubio (8.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 8.2 assists) being a poor shooter (34% shooting) has come into the forefront. The defense (11th overall per 100 possessions) is fine, but the Wolves have issues defending the rim, and guys like Kevin Martin doesn’t make it any easier to defend from penetration. Nikola Pekovic (17.5 points, 9.5 rebounds) is a bear down low, and I enjoy this team’s bench, especially Dante Cunningham, but much like any team fighting for a playoff berth, they have their vices. As Minnesota sits in the ninth spot in the West, the mid-season slide has people questioning if Minnesota can make the playoffs, along with lingering questions about Kevin Love, as his pending free agency looms near.

Taking a look at the other side of the coin, the New Orleans Pelicans sit at 14-15, but injuries could play a larger role into that. Anthony Davis (19.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.2 blocks) continues to make his climb into the league’s top post players, doubling as an efficient offensive player and dominant defensive player, protecting the rim at a torrent pace for the Pellies. The return of Ryan Anderson (19.9 points) gives Davis a perfect complement on offense, and Jrue Holiday (15.3 points, 8.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds) is running the team to the tune of a top 10 offense. The problems with New Orleans focuses on the bench. On the first year of a four-year, 44 million dollar deal, the Pelicans expected more from Tyreke Evans. He isn’t shooting well (41% from the field), and has yet to fully blossom in a sixth man role. With Evans’ struggles, the Pelican bench is missing the main option they need, someone who can change the game in six minute stretches, something Evans was expected to provide. Still, Jason Smith is a bruiser in the interior, Brian Roberts gets the job done as a backup point guard, and Anthony Morrow will shoot threes when he’s on the floor.

Along with struggling bench production, the Pelicans are currently ranked 25th in defensive efficiency, which isn’t good, especially when you have Anthony Davis in tow. The Pelicans can kill two birds with one stone with a trade for, say, Chicago’s Luol Deng, but the Pelicans have very little assets in trade in terms of draft picks, and they can’t take back much salary with Gordon, Evans, and Holiday all on the books moving forward. The Pelicans are a fun basketball team when they hit a groove (Holiday running the show, Gordon/Anderson spreading the floor with their shooting ability, Davis catching anything near the rim and swatting everything on the other end), but this team feels one or two more pieces away from becoming a legitimate playoff contender.

The Call: The Wolves need a win like this to keep pace for one of the bottom four seeds in the Western Conference. Rubio has the ability to successfully defend Holiday, and I’m actually intrigued to see how Monty Williams defends Nikola Pekovic, who as I mentioned before, is a bear in the low-post. Kevin Love will do Kevin Love things, but the backcourt matchups will be key. Eric Gordon going up against Kevin Martin will be a sight to see because Gordon can defend him, but Martin has an uncanny ability to get free throws. I’ll go Minnesota here. Wolves 108, Pelicans 99.

National TV: None

Local TV: None (Pelicans) | FSN (Timberwolves)

Time: 8:00 p.m. ET