Behind the Numbers: Timberwolves at Pelicans (1/25/2023)

A look at three key numbers related to Wednesday’s game in the Smoothie King Center between Minnesota and New Orleans (7 pm Central, Bally Sports New Orleans, WRNO 99.5 FM):

2-4: New Orleans record in the second game of back-to-backs this season, but 1-0 when both halves of the set are home games. This could become a relatively important consideration, given that the majority of the Pelicans’ remaining back-to-backs fit that latter description (Denver/Minnesota this week; Feb. 4-5 vs. Lakers/Sacramento in the Smoothie King Center; March 11-12 vs. Oklahoma City/Portland; April 4-5 vs. Sacramento/Memphis). Removing the travel aspect of playing games in consecutive nights means a more rested group of players and is something the NBA has incorporated into the schedule to a much greater degree in recent years, including multi-opponent trips to Los Angeles and New York City. New Orleans only has two more back-to-backs left in 2022-23 that require travel between games (this upcoming weekend vs. Washington/at Milwaukee; March 27-28 at Portland/at Golden State). By comparison, the Pelicans were just 3-12 overall in the second game of all back-to-backs last season.

51.1: Percentage of Jose Alvarado’s attempts from the field that have been three-pointers this season, compared to 37.4 as a rookie. Some of that increase in perimeter reliance undoubtedly can be attributed to changes in New Orleans personnel around him, with Zion Williamson’s return to action being among the factors that require more of a spot-up shooting role for the reserve point guard, particularly in fourth quarters . However, Alvarado continues to improve his finishing ability in the paint, something he displayed to a high degree during Tuesday’s defeat vs. Denver. The second-year pro shot 7/8 on two-pointers, repeatedly getting to the rim and dropping in layups over taller Nuggets defenders. The 6-footer’s seven two-point hoops were the most for him this season and the second-highest tally of his young career (he had eight vs. San Antonio on March 26 of his rookie campaign).

8: NBA players who’ve been a starter in all of their team’s games this season (fact via MSG Network), a list that includes New Orleans center Jonas Valanciunas and Minnesota wing Anthony Edwards (joining New York’s Julius Randle, Sacramento’s Harrison Barnes, Phoenix’s Mikal Bridges, Indiana’s Buddy Hield, Charlotte’s Mason Plumlee and Chicago’s Nikola Vucevic). A tip of the cap goes to Valanciunas, who at 30 is the third-oldest player among that group of “ironmen.” Thirty-two-year-olds Plumlee and Vucevic are the only players older than Valanciunas to start every game, while Edwards has “young legs” at age 21. Signing arriving in the Crescent City via summer 2021 trade, Valanciunas has played in 122 of a possible 130 regular season games, including 79 of the last 81.

Previous Game Starting Lineups

MINNESOTA (24-25, 9TH IN WEST)

D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels, Kyle Anderson, Rudy Gobert

Notes: This group is 7-5, Minnesota’s second-most wins from a starting unit. The Timberwolves have a 9-8 lineup that features Karl-Anthony Towns instead of Anderson at one of the forward spots. … Towns and Taurean Prince are listed as out; Gobert is questionable. … Minnesota could drop as far as 11th place on Wednesday with a loss, because No. 10 Golden State (23-24) and No. 11 Oklahoma City (23-24) both have home games.

NEW ORLEANS (26-22, 4TH IN WEST)

CJ McCollum, Herb Jones, Trey Murphy, Jaxson Hayes, Jonas Valanciunas

Notes: This group is 0-1. Tuesday was Hayes’ second start of the season; the Pelicans beat Indiana on Dec. 26 with Hayes in the first unit. … New Orleans’ primary first string is 6-4 but has not been intact since a Nov. 21 wins over Golden State. The Pelicans were 10-7 after that victory. … New Orleans will remain in fourth place after Wednesday’s games regardless of outcome, but the fifth-place Clippers (26-24) are only one game back.

CREATE HAVOC ON DEFENSE
One way to get New Orleans’ offense back in gear? Start creating more easy opportunities in transition. The Pelicans rank second in the NBA in steals per game (8.6) and are facing a Minnesota team that is third from the bottom of the league in turnover percentage. Keep in mind, the Timberwolves are also disruptive on defense (fourth in the NBA in steals at 8.4 per game).

ATTACK THE PAINT
One way to get New Orleans’ offense back in gear? Start getting to the basket more effectively. The Pelicans will likely break out of their perimeter shooting slump at some point, but over the last three games, they’ve been under 30 percent from three-point range.

MATCHUP TO WATCH
At center, Gobert is listed as questionable, but if he plays, it should be a compelling watch in the low post as he battles against fellow monster big Valanciunas. Both men were part of intraconference trades over the past two offseasons.

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