WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, TN
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MINNESOTA: Karl-Anthony Towns (left knee sprain—QUESTIONABLE), Jake Layman (left toe sprain—OUT)
Projected Starting Lineups:
Memphis: Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Jae Crowder, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas
Minnesota: Shabazz Napier, Jarrett Culver, Andrew Wiggins, Robert Covington, Gorgui Dieng
In the Memphis Grizzlies unexpected and inexorable march to the playoffs (currently one game back of the San Antonio Spurs for the 8th spot), the Minnesota Timberwolves are and will continue to be an obstacle in their path. The T-Wolves are winners of four of their last six but have struggled mightily as compared to their preseason expectations.
The Grizzlies won both of the previous meetings earlier in the year, including one in Minnesota in which Ja Morant was not a participant. It goes without saying that this matchup will be just as important as the rest of the Grizzlies’ matchups this week—wins over Phoenix, Minnesota and San Antonio could prove to have massive implications by the time March and April come around.
Here are a few areas of focus for the Grizzlies tonight:
Avoid a Letdown (if necessary)
Karl-Anthony Towns has missed the Wolves’ last nine games dating back to December 13th because of a left knee sprain. Timberwolves PR has him officially listed as questionable, but I’d say it’s still probably more likely than not that he doesn’t play tonight.
If he doesn’t, then it’s absolutely imperative that the Grizzlies approach the game with the same level of focus that they would have if he was. It would be very fitting for a young team like the Grizzlies that has been playing extremely well for the last month to come into this game with an unearned sense of arrogance and cockiness toward what they perceive as an inferior opponent. And if what happened the last time the Golden State Warriors came to the FedExForum was any indication, that’s a recipe for disaster.
The Wolves have plenty of other talented pieces on their roster, including Andrew Wiggins, who enters the game averaging a career-high 24.4 PPG, Shabazz Napier, Jarrett Culver and Robert Covington. And the Grizzlies cannot afford to take them for granted. They simply aren’t good enough to do so.
Play Their Game
I almost feel like a casual fan just typing this, but if the Grizzlies play their brand of basketball offensively, they will probably win the game. If they play well, they have a good chance to win. I’m really having to channel my inner Booger McFarland for this.
The reason for my crude simplicity is that I don’t really know what actual weaknesses the Wolves have that the Grizzlies can take advantage of—and that’s not meant to be complimentary of the Wolves. From their actual record to their general statistical profile as a team, I’m not sure that has ever been a more mediocre basketball team in the NBA than the Minnesota Timberwolves. They’re terrible at nothing, and they excel at nothing (well to be fair, they are very good at creating turnovers, ranking second in the league with 8.6 steals per game, but even that isn’t particularly relevant since they’re just 19th in creating points off those turnovers).
To be sure, the mediocrity is evident across the board. They rank 15th in defensive rating, 23rd in offensive rating, 22nd in defensive rebounding percentage, 18th in paint defense, 14th in opponent three-point percentage, 20th in pace, 24th in team assists, 15th in turnover percentage...the list goes on.
While the Grizzlies are certainly not leaps and bounds better than the Wolves, they do on the other hand have areas in which excel, such as paint scoring (first in the league) and ball movement (second in the league in assists). As long as they continue to excel in those areas, they will have more than a decent chance to win.
Since the Wolves likely without Towns in the lineup, this is a definitely a game that the Grizzlies should win at home. They have matchup advantages at every spot in the starting lineup except at small forward, and they are simply the more talented team. However, the superior team is definitely never guaranteed a win in the NBA.
But at least for tonight, it will play out like it’s supposed to do so. The Wolves will demonstrate impressive tenacity like they have in their recent stretch of games and will take a small half-time lead. But the Grizzlies will continue their trend of strong third quarters and will eventually put the Wolves away by the midpoint of the fourth quarter for a double-digit win.
Ja Morant will have a superb night against a less-than-stellar defensive backcourt of Jeff Teague and Shabazz Napier, and Jaren Jackson Jr. will finally exorcise his Robert Covington demons.