PREVIEW: New Orleans Pelicans to search for defense in T-Wolves matchup

Jan 22, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio (9) shoots during the third quarter against the Atlanta Hawks at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans have been playing very bad defense.

Maybe they can slow down the struggling Minnesota Timberwolves offense.

The Pelicans have allowed 111 or more points in each of their last nine games. That includes a season-high points allowed in a 129-118 loss at Utah on Thursday that dropped the Pelicans to 1-4 on a road trip that concludes against the T-wolves on Saturday.

“I don’t think we’re taking great pride in it individually or as a group,” New Orleans coach Stan Van Gundy said of his team’s defense. “I do think we’ve taken a step back.”

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The Pelicans lost in Utah for the second time in three nights despite scoring a season-high 43 points in taking a 12-point lead at the end of the first quarter of the rematch.

“We just don’t put any pressure on anybody,” Van Gundy said. “It’s very comfortable to play against us. We’ve got to change our defense. I’m not saying we don’t have some offensive problems, but we can’t give up this number of points and have any chance of having a good season.”

Van Gundy said he wasn’t “trying to absolve” the coaching staff from responsibility for the defensive problems, but added that the problem wasn’t primarily “schematic.”

“We’re trying to make some adjustments,” Van Gundy said, “but guard the ball, get up into some people, put some pressure on them, don’t get beat off the dribble, close out hard, block out, rebound the ball.

“Come on. We can do that without 2 1/2 hours of practice time. We’ve got to toughen up.”

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Minnesota has lost 11 of its last 12 games after a 116-98 loss to visiting Atlanta on Friday night.

It was the fourth time in the last five games that the Wolves had scored fewer than 99 points.

The Hawks made 15 of 35 3-pointers, and the Wolves made just 8 of 32.

“Our margin for error isn’t big right now,” Minnesota coach Ryan Saunders said after the game. “We’ve got to be competing every possession. There are some effort mistakes. Those are ones we can’t have.”

Saunders, like Van Gundy, has been searching everywhere for answers to his team’s ongoing woes. The Timberwolves have the worst record in the Western Conference.

“I’m critical of myself on every game,” Saunders said. “I think that’s how you have to be as a coach.”

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The Timberwolves have been playing the last week without Karl-Anthony Towns, Ricky Rubio and Juancho Hernangomez because of COVID-19 protocols. Rubio returned Friday after a two-game absence and scored four points in 15 minutes. It’s unclear when Towns and Hernangomez will return.

“He’s not getting a fair chance to showcase our team, our full team,” guard D’Angelo Russell said of Saunders.

The Hawks, who beat the visiting Timberwolves 108-97 on Monday, raced to a 62-43 halftime lead Friday. They outrebounded Minnesota 63-42.

“We haven’t had our guys,” Malik Beasley said. “This is the first year with each other. We haven’t had a full training camp, but at the end of the day, we are improving. We’ll put it all together soon.”

–Field Level Media

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