Preview: Timberwolves at Pelicans

March 19, 2017

The New Orleans Pelicans have won three of their last four games, but they are a team still in search of their post-All-Star Game identity as they host the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday at the Smoothie King Center.

The Pelicans (28-41) put together one of their most impressive complementary performances of the season in a 128-112 upset of the red-hot Houston Rockets on Friday night, and they did it with center DeMarcus Cousins sitting out to rest a sore left knee and a bruised right rib.

New Orleans moved the ball effectively against the Rockets, collecting 29 assists, and small forward Solomon Hill, an under-performing offensive commodity most of the season, scored a career-high 30 points to go along with 24 points and 15 rebounds from All-Star forward Anthony Davis.

Cousins said after practice on Saturday that he expects to play against Minnesota (28-40).

The Pelicans are 5-7 in 12 games since the Pelicans acquired Cousins from Sacramento, but are 2-0 in the games Cousins has sat out.

Cousins was forced to miss one game because he exceeded the limit of technical fouls for the season (18), and he rested Friday night after being inadvertently kneed in the ribs by Miami forward James Johnson on Wednesday night.

"I got kneed by a black belt," Cousins said.

Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry gave no weight to the notion that the Pelicans might have a better offensive flow without Cousins on the court.

Gentry also realizes the last 13 games of the season are more likely an early training camp for the 2017-18 season rather than a push to catch Denver for the eighth playoff seed in the Western Conference.

"The more we can have him out there (on the court), the more we can learn and try to experiment with certain situations and how he and (Davis) work together, and how to do things when one is in the game and one is out," Gentry said.

"We want him to play every game that he possibly can."

Gentry said it was beneficial for Cousins to watch on Friday, "but I don't think anything helps more than being out there playing. Some of the things we do when one of them is playing are different than when both are playing.

"All we'll do is continue to play," Gentry added. "I don't know what's going to happen. What we talk about doing is going out and playing every game like we're in the playoffs."

The Timberwolves are coming off a 123-105 road loss to Miami on Friday night, and coach Tom Thibodeau made it clear he will continue to press his young roster to play hard for the rest of the season.

"It's a long season for every team in this league," Thibodeau said. "You have to have the mental toughness to get through and endure, and when things aren't going your way, you can't cave in. We have to change our mind set, and I have to drive. There's not going to be a letup. We have to practice better. That's on me."

The Wolves have lost three of their last four games, and part of that slippage has been on the defensive end. The Heat shot 59 percent from the field on Friday, and the Wolves allowed 117 points to Boston on Wednesday.

"This isn't AAU basketball," Thibodeau said. "This is get-out-there and everyone has to do a job together."

Added Minnesota forward Andrew Wiggins: "Terrible. If a team shoots 60 percent, that's not good. We've got to step it up. In practice, go over what we did and fix it. We've just got to help each other on defense, be fastened together."

Injuries have begun to pile up for Minnesota. Nemanja Bjelica will miss the rest of the season because of a foot injury, and swingman Lance Stephenson reinjured an ankle sprained last month.

Zach LaVine (knee) and Nikola Pekovic (ankle) also are out.

"We feel we have more than enough to win with," Thibodeau said. "So the next guy has to get in there and get the job done."

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