By David Grubb
The New Orleans Pelicans were thoroughly embarrassed in their 44-point beatdown courtesy of the Los Angeles Lakers in the semifinals of the NBA’s in-season tournament. It was the fourth-worst loss in franchise history, and the third-worst in the regular season.
“We were all disappointed in our performance,” said head coach Willie Green. “It was a letdown. It’s not our standard. It’s not who we’ve been.”

Well…it kinda is.

Prior to their loss to the Lakers, the Pelicans had won three of four. However, before that there were back-to-back losses to the Utah Jazz. The Pelicans remain consistently inconsistent. They haven’t won more than three in a row all season, and are just 9-9 against Western Conference opponents.

Though losing to the Lakers on its own isn’t bad, the manner in which the Pelicans were taken down really was.

“We’ve got to do better,” said Pelicans’ center Jonas Valanciunas following the team’s Sunday practice. “It was kind of embarrassing. We’ve got to do better. Simple as that…It was hard to watch.”

The Pelicans get their first chance at redemption tonight at home against the NBA’s best-team, the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Minnesota may not be the best opponent to face coming off that type of loss. The Timberwolves have the best defensive team in the league, have won nine of their last 10 (six in a row overall, four straight on the road), and are 2-0 versus the Pelicans this season. 

The last time these teams met, New Orleans blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter to lose 121-120. Minnesota has scored at least 120 points in both meetings, something that oppenents have done in each of the Pelicans’ last two losses. 

New Orleans is 0-8 this season when allowing at least 120 points, with half of those losses coming at “The Blender.”

However, neither Zion Williamson nor CJ McCollum played in the first two matchups. 

Williamson has not looked good on the court or on the stat sheet lately. Zion has averaged just 15.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 3.3 turnovers over his last four games, and has been held below 15 points in three of four. He has been called out for his weight and his effort by local and national media figures. 

The Pelicans have to hope that Zion produces numbers somewhere near his career averages against the Timberwolves (28.5 pts, 7.2 rebs, 3.7 asts in six games). This will be a major test for his mental strength, going against the league’s best defense.

Since McCollum returned in late November, he too has had a hard time finding his rhythm. He’s shooting 41.9% from the floor and 32.0% from beyond the arc, though the Pelicans are 3-1 in those games.

Following this game, the schedule does let up a bit. The Pelicans face the Washington Wizards, Charlotte Hornets, San Antonio Spurs, and Memphis Grizzlies. That quartet is a combined 19-64 (.228).

A win tonight could set them up for a surge in the West. A defeat might be another severe blow to a team, and a franchise player, that is facing intense pressure and scrutiny.

The Pelicans will have to limit their turnovers, control the glass, and find some way to get Williamson going; all of which are tall tasks against Rudy Gobert and the Wolves.

So will the real New Orleans Pelicans team please stand up? Are the Pelicans the team that has wins over OKC, Dallas, Denver and Sacramento (3)? Or, are they the team that was run out of Vegas?