Minnesota Timberwolves at Memphis Grizzlies: Game 26 Preview - This has got to stop

Records: Minnesota Timberwolves (13-12) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (12-13)

8:00 PM Eastern Standard Time

FedExForum, Memphis, Tennessee

Line:Memphis by 7.5

Opponent Blog: Canis Hoopus

Injury Report: MIN: Milicic (ankle) Day to Day; MEM: Allen (hip/knee) Day to Day, Randolph (knee)

With Kevin Love finishing his two-game "stomp suspension," the visiting Timberwolves will try to win four in a row for the first time in two seasons tonight when they play in the Forum. The Memphis Grizzlies are going for a sixth consecutive Minnesota victory, yet fight to avoid a four-game losing streak.

More after el salto.

Hope you dig that Spanish. And goodness...I hope it's correct.

The Timberwolves are undoubtedly a stronger team with Kevin Love in their lineup. In the last game against Sacramento, though, they came out on top without the All-Star. Love, averaging 25.0 points and 13.7 rebounds, missed Tuesday's 86-84 victory over Sacramento after being suspended two games for stepping on Houston's Luis Scola last Saturday.

There's debate on whether or not the step was intentional - you can decide for yourself. At this point, though, the argument is empty: Kevin Love was suspended for two games and will not be on the court tonight.

Because Minnesota's playing-style is a bit undefined without Kevin Love, all Memphis has to look to for playing tendencies is Minnesota's last game against Sacramento. Center Nikola Pekovic had 23 points, Michael Beasley added 17, and rookie Derrick Williams (only his third start) scored half of his 14 in the final four minutes. These three guys combined for 32 rebounds. The entire team could only claim 49.

Memphis will try to extend its winning-streak against Minnesota after winning a close 90-86 victory on January 4. In that context, Tony Allen was the leading scorer with 20 points, but is looking at possibly missing his third game tonight with a sore hip and knee.

The Timberwolves have been hot lately - in winning 5 of their last 7 games, they boosted their record to 12-12 on the season. It's the latest in a season they've enjoyed a .500+ mark since January 2007, in which they went 22-22. At 6-4, furthermore, the Wolves are one of three Western Conference teams with a winning road record.

Keys to the Game

(1) Perimeter defense. Minnesota beat San Antonio at their own game on January 2, shooting 12-for-21 beyond the arc. The game marked the club-record-tying third straight game with at least 10 three-pointers. When hitting at least 10 three pointers, the Wolves are 4-1 this season; when attempting at least 23, they're 4-2.

(2) Rubio vs. Conley. Two of the league's rising standout point-guards will face off tonight in Ricky Rubio vs. Mike Conley. Ricky Rubio has been giving the fans in Minnesota something to look forward to: he's averaged 11.8 points, 9.9 assists, and 3.0 steals since being placed in the starting lineup 15 games ago. Ironically, Rubio's five steals this past Tuesday put him ahead of Mike Conley for a league-leading 2.44 steals per game.

Monday night against San Antonio was Conley's first game since January 1 without a steal - but then again, in that game, he was going against Steve Nash at point. In the game, Conley's double-double (15 points, 10 assists) was Conley's fourth in 16 games. Despite the Grizzlies losing-skid, Conley's averaging career-highs in assists (7.5), steals (2.5), and field goal percentage (45.3).

(3) Managing Minutes. Fatigue is a growing problem for players in this 66-game condensed season. Competing every other night, players are finding it harder to get up in the morning after aggressively competing the night before, only having to do it all over again. Coach Hollins has not done much to work around this problem: Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley have all received heavy minutes as the core of the team, especially without Zach Randolph. In Monday's San Antonio game, Gay, Gasol, and Conley all logged 45, 42, and 41 minutes, respectively.

"It was tough," Gay said ofter the team lost its third straight. "A couple of guys were fatigued from playing a lot of heavy minutes."

It doesn't help that the Grizzlies do not have depth when it comes to the reserves, but if they expect to compete, then the reserves will need to step up. In order to step up, they must have the opportunity to do so. Memphis can't get into the 8th seed only by watching Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley.

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In Tom's most recent post, he expressed the importance of the next 5 games concerning the Grizzlies playoff implications. The Western Conference is a rock-solid powerhouse. If the Grizzlies expect to slide into the 8th seed, they need to win games like tonight.

Fortunately, the Grizzlies have always played well against Minnesota. In the series, Memphis has won four-straight at home and 8-of-9 overall.

Final Prediction Minnesota 90, Memphis 95

Game thread will be up and running tonight. See you there, soVers.

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