WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Bally Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS: Steven Adams (Questionable, Non-covid illness), Yves Pons (Questionable, ankle), Dillon Brooks (Out, ankle)
Minnesota: Jaylen Nowell (Doubtful, left ankle sprain), Leandro Bolmaro (Out, health and safety), McKinley Wright IV (Out, G-League Two-Way)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS:
MEMPHIS: Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Ziaire Williams, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams
MINNESOTA: Patrick Beverley, D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, Jarred Vanderbilt, Karl-Anthony Towns
The greatest show in basketball returns tonight.
On Tuesday night, the Memphis Grizzlies memorably defeated the Golden State Warriors to win their 10th game in a row and now have control of the third seed in the Western Conference (by a half game over the Utah Jazz). Honestly at this point, there isn’t much more to be said. The Grizzlies have been the best team in the NBA for nearly three weeks now, and they show no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
But the Minnesota Timberwolves, who are winners of four of their last five games, may just have something to say about that. Despite suffering a heartbreaking loss to the Pelicans off of a Brandon Ingram game-winner, the Wolves have been playing great basketball of late, and they’re currently only a half game back of the God-forsaken Lakers for the 8 seed in the West. That’s not even to mention the fact that they beat the Grizzlies by 43 back on November 20th.
Of course, with how far the Grizzlies have come since then, their last matchup with the Wolves feels like a lifetime ago. Still, the Grizzlies can’t afford to take them lightly, and there is one main area in which the Grizzlies need to focus to win this game.
Defending the Wolves Anywhere and Everywhere
To the probable surprise of many, the Wolves are better than their mediocre record would suggest. They’re just very solid, with their greatest success coming on the defensive end. They rank 10th in defensive efficiency, 9th in opponent three-point percentage, and 8th in fewest paint points allowed per game.
Even their offense, which has struggled throughout most of the year due to injuries and absences, is finally starting to hum. To say that the Wolves have been on an offensive tear would be an understatement. Over their last three games, the fewest they have scored in a single game has been 128 points, and they have made 50 threes during that time. Granted, their opponents were the Rockets, Thunder and Pelicans, but it’s still impressive all the same.
The reason for their success is no secret. Karl-Anthony Towns is in the middle of one of the most prolifically productive seasons of his career, averaging 24.6 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 3.7 assists. Over their last few games, D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards have absolutely gashed opposing defenses, with Russell in particular posting several 20 points/10 assists games.
While the Grizzlies were able to have defensive success against the Warriors, the Wolves trio will present a unique challenge, especially in the absence of Dillon Brooks. Edwards and Russell are obviously not as good as Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, but they are both more aggressive attackers of the basket with the ball in their hands than they are. Brooks’ point of attack defense will be missed more sorely against them than it has been recently.
The impending return of Steven Adams also complicates matters a bit. Adams has, of course, generally been solid defensively this year, with his greatest value coming from his defensive rebounding. But with Towns, who already has a strong case to be the best shooting big man ever, being his opposing matchup it almost makes you wish that Adams could have one more night off, so that Jaren Jackson Jr.—who has been phenomenal defensively at center—could have this matchup for the majority of the night.
All of this is to say: The Grizzlies will need to play sound individual defense and contain dribble penetration. Because once you let the Wolves guards get into the paint, it opens up the floodgates for their several impressive shooters.
Fortunately, the Grizzlies should also be able to wreak havoc in passing lanes, where I think this game will ultimately be won. The Wolves are 27th in turnovers per game (15.1), and the Grizzlies are one of the most opportunistic defensive teams in recent NBA history, ranking 1st in the league with 10.2 steals per game.
This will be my first Grizzlies game that I’ve attended in nearly two months, and they’re not letting me down tonight.
The Wolves may be more solid defensively than in years past, but they still lack anyone who can consistently stay in front of Ja Morant (sorry Josh Okogie and Patrick Beverley), much less offer significant resistance against him at the rim. They also lack anyone with the requisite size to contend with Jaren Jackson Jr. down low while also being able to keep up with him on the perimeter (sorry Jaden McDaniels, Jarred Vanderbilt).
Forget that November meltdown: The Minnesota Timberwolves are solid, but the Memphis Grizzlies are much better. And they will win in a high-scoring affair tonight.