The New Orleans Pelicans figure to be wary of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Pelicans are 7 1/2 games ahead of the Timberwolves in the Western Conference standings. New Orleans follows a victory against Miami and Minnesota is coming off a poor performance in losing to visiting Orlando as it prepares to host the Pelicans on Sunday.
The Timberwolves visited New Orleans on Tuesday and beat the Pelicans 139-134, with eight Minnesota players scoring in double figures.
New Orleans has little room for error as it tries to stay in playoff contention. Another loss to Minnesota could be crippling.
The loss to the Timberwolves was the middle contest of a three-game losing streak. The defense was better in a 127-123 overtime loss at Dallas on Wednesday and it was much better in a 110-104 home victory against Miami on Friday.
The Pelicans saw an 18-point lead shrink to one in the fourth quarter, but Josh Hart sank a 3-pointer and Brandon Ingram made a jumper and a 3-pointer to keep New Orleans on top. The Heat made just one field goal in the final three minutes.
"It was like the Dallas game -- it got close but we made the plays down the stretch tonight," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. "The other night Dallas did it and you are going to have to be able to do it.
"Miami is a team that kind of way they are going to find a way to get themselves back into the game. They did but we kept our composure to the point where we were able to make a couple plays and win the game."
Sunday's contest starts a crucial four-game road trip for New Orleans. The other games are against Sacramento, one of five teams with whom the Pelicans are competing for the final playoff spot, and then two of the conference's best teams -- the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Clippers.
"I've gone three games losing, so it felt good to get a win, especially against a team like that and especially since we are about to go on a road trip," Hart said.
The Timberwolves' 132-118 home loss to the Magic on Friday left them feeling the way the Pelicans felt after their loss to Minnesota.
"I think it was a heart game, a pride game on the defensive end," guard Malik Beasley said. "I feel like we got complacent, so we just need to have more energy and more of a mindset to defend and not just go out there and defend."
The Magic made 60.7 percent of their shots and never led by fewer than 10 points in the second half.
"Bad body language from the start," forward James Johnson said. "You can use whatever excuse you want, we just didn't come out (ready to play). We've got to do better. We're going to get better, and it's going to start (at practice Saturday)."
D'Angelo Russell, who had 23 points and made three key 3-pointers down the stretch against the Pelicans, had only five points on 2-for-14 shooting against Orlando.
--Field Level Media