Pelicans try to keep it going against Timberwolves

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NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Pelicans have won three of their
last four games, but they are a team still in search of their
post-All-Star Game identity as they host the Minnesota
Timberwolves on Sunday at the Smoothie King Center.

The Pelicans (28-41) put together one of their most impressive
complementary performances of the season in a 128-112 upset of
the red-hot Houston Rockets on Friday night, and they did it
with center DeMarcus Cousins sitting out to rest a sore left
knee and a bruised right rib.

New Orleans moved the ball effectively against the Rockets,
collecting 29 assists, and small forward Solomon Hill, an
under-performing offensive commodity most of the season, scored
a career-high 30 points to go along with 24 points and 15
rebounds from All-Star forward Anthony Davis.

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Cousins said after practice on Saturday that he expects to play
against Minnesota (28-40).

The Pelicans are 5-7 in 12 games since the Pelicans acquired
Cousins from Sacramento, but are 2-0 in the games Cousins has
sat out.

Cousins was forced to miss one game because he exceeded the
limit of technical fouls for the season (18), and he rested
Friday night after being inadvertently kneed in the ribs by
Miami forward James Johnson on Wednesday night.

“I got kneed by a black belt,” Cousins said.

Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry gave no weight to the notion that
the Pelicans might have a better offensive flow without Cousins
on the court.

Gentry also realizes the last 13 games of the season are more
likely an early training camp for the 2017-18 season rather
than a push to catch Denver for the eighth playoff seed in the
Western Conference.

“The more we can have him out there (on the court), the more we
can learn and try to experiment with certain situations and how
he and (Davis) work together, and how to do things when one is
in the game and one is out,” Gentry said.

“We want him to play every game that he possibly can.”

Gentry said it was beneficial for Cousins to watch on Friday,
“but I don’t think anything helps more than being out there
playing. Some of the things we do when one of them is playing
are different than when both are playing.

“All we’ll do is continue to play,” Gentry added. “I don’t know
what’s going to happen. What we talk about doing is going out
and playing every game like we’re in the playoffs.”

The Timberwolves are coming off a 123-105 road loss to Miami on
Friday night, and coach Tom Thibodeau made it clear he will
continue to press his young roster to play hard for the rest of
the season.

“It’s a long season for every team in this league,” Thibodeau
said. “You have to have the mental toughness to get through and
endure, and when things aren’t going your way, you can’t cave
in. We have to change our mind set, and I have to drive.
There’s not going to be a letup. We have to practice better.
That’s on me.”

The Wolves have lost three of their last four games, and part
of that slippage has been on the defensive end. The Heat shot
59 percent from the field on Friday, and the Wolves allowed 117
points to Boston on Wednesday.

“This isn’t AAU basketball,” Thibodeau said. “This is
get-out-there and everyone has to do a job together.”

Added Minnesota forward Andrew Wiggins: “Terrible. If a team
shoots 60 percent, that’s not good. We’ve got to step it up. In
practice, go over what we did and fix it. We’ve just got to
help each other on defense, be fastened together.”

Injuries have begun to pile up for Minnesota. Nemanja Bjelica
will miss the rest of the season because of a foot injury, and
swingman Lance Stephenson reinjured an ankle sprained last
month.

Zach LaVine (knee) and Nikola Pekovic (ankle) also are out.

“We feel we have more than enough to win with,” Thibodeau said.
“So the next guy has to get in there and get the job done.”

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