Extra Pass: Pelicans, Timberwolves ready for showdown

Published April 9, 2023, 5:00 PM ● Miguel Flores

It’s the end of the regular season but the Pelicans and Timberwolves are still poised for an exciting matchup with playoff seeding at stake.

What's up with the Western Conference?

Postseason seeding is pretty much set in stone around the league, except in the Western Conference. The fifth through ninth seed are all still up for grabs and the Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, Minnesota Timberwolves, and New Orleans Pelicans all have something to play for in game no. 82 of the season.

For a shorthand, the most simple way this can end is for the Clippers to win against the Phoenix Suns and Golden State to beat the Portland Trail Blazers tomorrow, vaulting them to no. 5 and no. 6, respectively, and out of the play-in tournament. But, it’s rarely been that simple in the NBA

What’s up with Pelicans vs Timberwolves?

The biggest matchup tomorrow has to be the Pelicans vs Timberwolves live at 3:30 AM on NBA League Pass. The Pelicans have an outside chance of finishing in the fifth seed while the Timberwolves just want to avoid falling to the ninth seed and needing to win twice to earn a playoff spot.

Looking back at preseason predictions, many expected the Pelicans to take a leap this season into a true threat in the West. That was all contingent on Zion Williamson’s health and, sadly, Williamson’s lower extremities have continue to fail him. Zion has only played in 29 games this season, owing to an ankle and, more recently, hamstring issues. He’s been out of the Pelicans’ lineup since January 2.

Still, the Pelicans have persisted. They are pretty much in the same spot they were in last season – fighting for a spot in the play-in with their ragtag group of scorers.

This was a team built around the unique talent of Zion Willamson – bona fide buckets in CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram with a bruising center in Jonas Valanciunas, defensive menace Herb Jones, and solid bench pieces in guys like Jose Alvarado and Trey Murphy. Without Zion, the Pelicans are like a heavyweight boxer without a knockout punch. That's still enough to beat some of their opponents.

Minnesota, on paper, should be much better than their record shows. It’s been a challenge trying to fit both Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert into the same lineup. At one point, they were out of the postseason picture with Towns on the injury list. They’ve managed to stay afloat and, with Towns back in the fold, look poised to make a run at the postseason again.

Last season, it was the Pelicans and Timberwolves that made it out of the play-in crucible. This year, they’re matched up in a high-stakes regular season finale.

The matchup we’re looking at is Ingram vs Edwards: two exciting scorers with their own hang-ups. For Ingram, health has been an issue since he became a Pelican. He’s missed at least 20 games in each of the last six seasons and is set to play only his 45th game of this season tomorrow. When healthy, Ingram has looked like a legitimate first option scorer. He’s averaging 24 points on 48 percent shooting this season with five rebounds and five assists. The Pelicans are an above .500 team in games he’s played. They just need him to stay on the court.

Edwards is as exciting a young guard as they come. He also has all the trappings of one trying to make a name for himself. He’s been inconsistent with his decision-making. The Wolves needed him to take on more of a leadership role, but it seems he isn’t ready to step into that role just yet. He is just 21 years old, after all.

He is an All-Star, averaging 24 points on a career-high 45 percent shooting clip. It's clear that Edwards is going to be Minnesota’s best player in a couple of years and these formative seasons are crucial to reshaping their winning culture.

Expect a showdown between these two tomorrow. Edwards has had a couple of 30-point outbursts this past week while Ingram is averaging 27 points in that same span. Both teams desperately need to win and are going to lean on their young stars to get there.