MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES AT NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Wednesday, Nov. 1 (7 p.m.)
Why it’s on the list
It hasn’t quite come to fruition yet, but Timberwolves-Pelicans has the makings of a compelling rivalry in the West. Last season, ESPN chose to broadcast one of the Minnesota-New Orleans games, partly to feature the matchup between former Kentucky standouts Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Davis. It’s a bit surprising that this Wednesday encounter wasn’t also picked up by ESPN for a midweek telecast, but the network instead chose to air a Nov. 1 doubleheader that begins with Houston-New York. Davis has terrorized the Wolves often in the past, including scoring 42 and 45 points in separate games against Minnesota last season. New Orleans went 3-0 vs. Minnesota, but the Wolves have brought in some serious reinforcements, most notably trading for Jimmy Butler. The high-scoring and athletic wing averaged 33.5 points vs. the Pelicans in two Chicago victories last season.
Where it falls on the New Orleans schedule
This is the final game of a third-game homestand for the Pelicans that begins with tilts against teams on opposite ends of the East spectrum, Cleveland and Orlando. Head-to-head games – especially at home – against West teams such as Minnesota, Portland, Memphis, Denver, Utah and the Clippers could be of great importance for New Orleans, as it tries to climb the standings and reach the playoffs. Following the Nov. 1 matchup with the Timberwolves, the Pelicans head out for a four-game road trip that stops in Dallas, Chicago, Indiana and Toronto.
What’s new in Minnesota
The Timberwolves were expected by many to make a big jump under first-year head coach Tom Thibodeau last season, but it didn’t happen, with defensive woes a major culprit behind the lack of progress (26th in efficiency, via NBA.com). This offseason, Minnesota is again projected to be one of the NBA’s most improved teams, this time fortified by proven veterans and a big difference-maker in Butler. Along with Butler forming a talented and high-scoring trio with Towns and Andrew Wiggins, the Timberwolves upgraded at several other spots. Point guard Jeff Teague will replace Ricky Rubio (traded to Utah) in the starting lineup, joining Taj Gibson and Jamal Crawford as Minnesota newcomers who’ve made major contributions to perennial playoff teams.
Other 2017-18 games between these two teams
Wednesday, Nov. 29, Minnesota at New Orleans
Saturday, Jan. 6, New Orleans at Minnesota
Saturday, Feb. 3, New Orleans at Minnesota