The Wolves are coming off a brutal 22-point loss on Wednesday night in Oklahoma City at the hands of the Thunder. With no Kevin Love or J.J. Barea--playing with just ten healthy guys and playing the second game of a back-to-back, I think we all knew (going in) that it was going to get ugly...and ugly it got!
While the Minnesota Timberwolves continue to lose key players to injuries, the New Orleans Hornets are now a team at full strength after getting Eric Gordon back since he's been dealing with knee problems that have plagued him the past couple seasons. Tonight's game vs. the Wolves will just be his sixth of the season.
Nonetheless, with the return of Gordon and a heavy focus on the defensive end, these Hornets have shown recently that despite what their record says, they aren't the worst team in the Western Conference.
The TWolves come into this one 16-16 on the season as well as 6-11 on the road, 9-9 vs. Western Conference foes, 4-6 in their last ten games and currently ranked 10th in the West. The Hornets are 10-25 on the year, 5-13 at home, 5-16 vs. the Western Conference, 5-5 in their last ten games and currently ranked 15th (last) in the West.
The Hornets have certainly got a boost from the return of Eric Gordon, however some solid and impressive play from Greivis Vasquez and Ryan Anderson cannot be overlooked this season. Vasquez (in my opinion--and I highly doubt I stand alone) is a legitimate Most Improved Player of the Year candidate and one of the NBA's more unknown/underrated players in the League. If he continues to put up the kind of numbers he's been at as of late, he'll definitely put everyone on notice (if he hasn't already).
The Hornet's last game came against the Houston Rockets on Wednesday. The result? New Orleans held the NBA's best offensive team (106ppg) to just 79pts (a season-low for Houston) including a 10-point final quarter (in which the Hornets scored 29) to seal an underdog win. The Hornets not only beat the Rockets (currently a playoff team), they did so with a lot of their best players struggling: Eric Gordon played 28 minutes, went, 2-of-12 from the field and had as many turnovers as points (5), Ryan Anderson came off the bench to play 27 minutes, but didn't hit a single shot (0-for-7 from the field, 0-for-4 from deep) to finish with 0pts & 5reb. The Hornets showed their depth as Jason Smith finished with 17pts, 10reb, 3ast, 3blks; Roger Mason added 17pts, 5reb, 1ast, 1stl and 1blk and Greivis Vasquez finished with 17pts, 4reb, 11ast and 3stls. Very impressive win over a decent ball club that've been very good lately, but even more impressive to do so when your key guys struggle!
These two teams already met once this season, nearly a full month ago on December 14th in New Orleans. The Wolves handed the Hornets a 113-102 loss thanks to a career night from Nikola Pekovic who dumped in 31 points (career-high). Kevin Love did play in that game and finished with 14pts & 9reb, there's no doubting the Wolves miss him, however big games from Pek & AK should be enough for a W, despite the Hornets' recent hot streak.
Rick Adelman has missed the past two games as he tends to his wife who is currently hospitalized in Minneapolis. Rick wasn't with the team on Thursday, however that doesn't rule him out to join the team sometime today and coach tonight. However, if he isn't able to do that, Terry Porter will once again be acting head coach.
So, the Wolves may again be without their head coach...but he isn't the only one that won't be there Friday night. Kevin Love (hand), Brandon Roy (knee), Chase Budinger (knee) and Malcolm Lee (knee) are all out for this one, you can check the Injury Report page on this site for the full updates/stories on their injuries (under the Team Report section on this site). J.J. Barea went to Dallas on Wednesday night to receive treatment on his back (currently dealing with back spasms) we don't know yet if he'll be able to play--just remember, both Ricky Rubio & Andrei Kirilenko have had a 'bout' with back spasms this season and both missed four-consecutive games as a result. That's not to say J.J. is definitely out for another three games, no more no less...obviously different bodies and severity of the injury is key (I feel slightly stupid for adding this last part about him being out four games and 'different bodies' etc...my apologies).
The Hornets, on the other hand are currently dealing with zero significant injuries. Seems fair...right? By the way, if a Hornets fan is reading this and thinking to themselves, "Hey! Wait a minute, our best player has only played five games this season and our star rookie missed a number of games earlier this season, too! We don't feel bad for you bums!" Let me make this clear to you, don't even get us (Wolves fans) started on player injuries...just don't, unfortunately it's a game we'll always win.
Let's take a look at the probable starting lineups...
Luke Ridnour (11.4P, 4.3A, 1.2S)
Alexey Shved (11.2P, 2.7R, 4.7A)
Andrei Kirilenko (13.5P, 6.7R, 3.2A, 1.4S, 1.4B)
Dante Cunningham (7P, 5.3R, 1S)
Nikola Pekovic (16.3P, 8.7R, 0.9B)
Greivis Vasquez (14.1P, 4.5R, 9.1A)
Eric Gordon (15.6P, 4.4A, 1S)
Al Faroq-Aminu (7.4P, 6.7R, 1.3S)
Anthony Davis (13.4P, 8.1R, 1.1S, 1.9B)
Robin Lopez (11.8P, 5.7R, 1.9B)
Pek will get his points, however a little help from his teammates would be greatly appreciated. If guys like Shved, Ridnour, Kirilenko, Cunningham and Williams can hit their mid-range/three-point shots it changes the dynamic of how NOH will have to guard and not allow them to smother Nikola down low. I know I talk about the same idea every preview and I will continue to do so until the Wolves actually knock down some shots to open things up for the big guy--their game on Tuesday vs. Atlanta was pretty good though (over 45% field goal and 55% from deep).
I'm most worried about Gordon, the Wolves' backcourt is a consistent concern and anytime a team's best player plays guard, I always get a little concerned.
Tipoff for this one is set for 7pmCT from New Orleans Arena. Enjoy the game, thanks for reading HOWL and GO WOLVES!