WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee
WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Bally Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Ziaire Williams (Questionable, wrist), Dillon Brooks (Out, hand), Killian Tillie (Out, back)
MINNESOTA: D’Angelo Russell (Questionable, ankle), Leandro Bolmaro (Out, G-League), McKinley Wright IV (Out, G-League)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, De’Anthony Melton, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams
MINNESOTA: Patrick Beverley, Anthony Edwards, Taurean Prince, Jaden McDaniels, Karl-Anthony Towns
The Memphis Grizzlies played a complete and total dud of a game against the Washington Wizards on Friday night. It was one of those showings you want to burn the game film of - very little went right for the Grizzlies. Ja Morant struggled mightily. The team defense was abused on a consistent basis. While the Wizards appear to be much improved this season, there still isn’t much good to say about losing that way in a game that should have been, in theory, much more competitive.
Tonight’s game carries with it the same level of risk. For the Minnesota Timberwolves are not as bad as their record, or their recent run of bad luck (three losses by double-digits in a row) indicates. They aren’t the most deep franchise in the world - they miss the underperforming D’Angelo Russell - and when the likes of Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns aren’t dominating, Minnesota doesn’t stand a chance.
But a decent amount of the time, those two players are capable of domination. And the get right opportunity they’ve been waiting for may be tonight, if the Grizzlies do not defend better than they did on Friday night.
Keys to tonight’s game with the Wolves
Find new angles for Ja to eat
It is a bit early to say that the NBA has “figured out” how to slow down year three Ja Morant. Memphis is playing game #10 tonight - it’s hard to make such declarative statements one way or another about anything at this stage. Yet there is growing evidence that there are ways to limit what Ja does best. First, you need a guard or wing that has the defensive chops to fight over screens and be able to limit the space that Morant creates in that manner. From there, coming up and forcing decisions out of rhythm for the Grizzlies defense leads to poor decisions - and opposing teams getting opportunities in transition.
Minnesota has a couple players - Edwards and Patrick Beverley, to be specific - that could make Ja’s life difficult.
So how do you limit that? Allow for others like Desmond Bane and De’Anthony Melton (or Kyle Anderson off the bench) to start off more offensive sets. That doesn’t mean that Ja isn’t the final decision maker off of a pick and roll. It does mean how you get to that look should be varied more - make the Timberwolves react and rotate in different ways before they get to that tried and true Morant offensive initiation.
Make them work both on and off the floor to adjust to new ways of getting to similar results.
Win the reserve minutes
With Russell possibly out, it could be another night where Malik Beasley for the Timberwolves is without much backup on the Minnesota bench. Meanwhile, while the Grizzlies clearly miss Dillon Brooks in part because his absence means one of Desmond Bane or De’Anthony Melton has to start instead of being a key reserve, the likes of Ziaire Williams and Tyus Jones have recently been able to carry the load better than anticipated. Tyus Jones remains elite as a turnover to assist ratio man (his 2% turnover percentage per basketball-reference.com is easily the best in the NBA) but he is making threes (50%) better than he has throughout most of his NBA career.
Meanwhile, Ziaire Williams was one of the lone bright spots in the Grizzlies loss in Washington. He is quite good from the corner three and is settling in to his current role on the roster nicely. If he can maintain that, and Jones can continue to thrive, the Memphis reserves should win key bench minutes against the Timberwolves. And Minnesota simply does not have enough fire power to counter if that is the case.
Russell would make a major difference if he were to play. He practiced on Sunday for the Timberwolves, so it seems his questionable status is legitimate. If he suits up, the threat of his offense forces the Grizzlies to defend Minnesota in a different way than if he wasn’t able to play. Regardless, the biggest opponent for Memphis at this stage of their development is themselves. If they move the ball and execute in passing lates/creating defensive turnovers, they can beat anyone in the NBA. If they don’t, they can lose to anyone. Such is life in a rebuild.
Here’s to thinking that at home, where role players especially usually perform better, the Grizzlies hold the Wolves at bay and get a needed win to get to 6-4.
Memphis 111, Minnesota 107
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