Where: New Orleans Arena, New Orleans, Louisiana
See It: FSN
Hear It: WCCO AM 830
At this point last season, the Timberwolves were 16-16 and were entering a matchup against the Denver Nuggets with a 3-game winning streak. They were darkhorse contenders for the 8th seed in the playoffs thanks to the revelatory play of Ricky Rubio and a breakout superstar season from Kevin Love. Things were going as well as anyone who covered and watched the team could have possibly imagined.
What’s interesting is that the Wolves, once again, are 16-16, but this year, that .500 record just isn’t as encouraging. Meanwhile, the team they face tonight, the New Orleans Hornets, are in a similar situation to Minnesota last year.
To be clear, New Orleans is not a darkhorse playoff contender. The Hornets are 10-25, good for dead last in the Western Conference. They are 10 full games behind Denver, currently the 8th seed in the playoffs if the regular season ended today.
But the Hornets are showing some signs of life. They have rattled off four consecutive wins, including impressive victories over tough Western Conference opponents like Houston and San Antonio. With Eric Gordon returning, Ryan Anderson hitting plenty of 3-pointers, Greivis Vasquez emerging as a surprisingly capable point guard and Anthony Davis showing flashes of the superstar he could eventually become, New Orleans is suddenly a dangerous team with some dangerous offensive weapons. Much like Minnesota last year, New Orleans is a small-market NBA team who might have the framework in place to be a contender in the future.
It can be difficult for rookie bigs to do more than dunk and rebound. Andre Drummond is proving that this year. Blake Griffin has a rather unfair reputation as simply an impressive dunker because of what he did in his rookie season. But what’s so impressive about Davis is the fact this his skill-set, which is impressively varied already, spreads itself so nicely over an NBA game. Take a look at some of his more recent plays in transition, gathered from Synergy Sports.
First of all, Davis is incredibly long and athletic, but you knew that. Watch the final play. Davis gathers the ball behind the 3-point line with a catch that would make Calvin Johnson proud, never dribbles, and STILL manages to avoid traveling. He is moving so fast and his legs are so long that he covers the entire area between the 3-point line and the rim with just two extremely long strides for the dunk.
The Hornets are dangerous. They are, in fact, considerably more dangerous than when the Wolves met them in December and won comfortably. Minnesota played ten players in that game. They only have nine available tonight. And as the season once again descends into the quagmire of injuries and generally discouraging rhetoric (can this team sniff the playoffs without Kevin Love for much of the season?), teams like New Orleans — talented, young, entertaining and hungry for wins, not unlike a certain 2012 squad from Minneapolis — might prove to be a serious challenge for the Wolves.
Projected Starting Fives
Greivis Vasquez — PG — Seriously, who knows at this point?
Eric Gordon — SG — Seriously, who knows at this point?
Al-Farouq Aminu — SF — Seriously, who knows at this point?
Anthony Davis — PF — Seriously, who knows at this point?
Robin Lopez — C — Seriously, who knows at this point?
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.