Site Manager’s Note - Welcome Andrew Katz to GBB! This is his first official post - we’re excited to have him on board.
The Memphis Grizzlies and the Minnesota Timberwolves meet for the fourth and final time tonight at the Target Center. The Grizz lead the season series 2-1, including an exciting OT victory back in November. Both teams are ahead of schedule and led by their recent top picks — Ja Morant and Anthony Edwards. With only a couple of months to go, Minnesota is looking for the playoff experience the Grizzlies got last year, while Memphis is eying the grand prize.
To preview this game, I talk with Brendan Hedtke of Canis Hoopus — SB Nation’s Minnesota Timberwolves blog — to discuss two of the league’s most electric teams.
1) Memphis and Minnesota were two of the only teams to not make a deal at the trade deadline. Is there a deal you wish the Timberwolves made or something they might have needed for a potential playoff run?
Going into the trade deadline, I had a hope that the Wolves would find a trade to acquire some sort of big man depth. I was hoping for a bigger, bruising center to use against the bigger centers in the league like Jusuf Nurkic, Joel Embiid, and Jonas Valančiūnas if you couldn’t put Karl-Anthony Towns out there. I wasn’t looking for a high-quality player per se, but more so just a situational guy.
Obviously, as you said, they didn’t make a move and that’s because the asking prices were too high for those types of players. I am okay with not making a move and trying to find someone in the buyout market instead. Now, they have 3 second-round picks to play with come draft night, which is a good bargaining tool.
2) Karl-Anthony Towns has had an efficient year both from behind the arc and at the rim. What is the key to keeping the 2022 3-point Contest champion hot?
I think the biggest thing with Towns is finding the fine line between shooting from deep and driving. He’s the highest volume driving center in the league at 7.6 drives per game and he is effective in those as well. But he also shoots the most 3’s per game for true centers at 5.2 a night. The trouble is that he should be shooting more threes.
A couple of years back he was taking 7.9 threes per game and he made 41.2% of them. He needs to start letting them fly from deep, even if he has to create his own shot from out there. He is just too lethal. Hopefully, he is extra motivated to do that after winning the three-point contest. I expect a big jump from him to end the year because he has played better after the All-Star break every single season of his career.
3) Ja Morant has been held to two of his lowest scoring performances of the season against the Timberwolves. What is the key to containing him for the third time?
The biggest thing that the Wolves have going for them when it comes to defending Morant is the types of players they can throw at him. Patrick Beverley is the type of defender that will poke and prod at Ja all game long and annoy the ever-living hell out of him. Then, Minnesota can stick Anthony Edwards on him and let him try to bully Ja by using his size and athleticism. Edwards isn’t known to be a great defender, but he does great in on-ball situations, which is where we see Ja most of the time.
The other two defenders that can wreak havoc are Jaden McDaniels and Jarred Vanderbilt. Both are long, quick, and athletic. This can cause trouble for Ja when he’s looking to make passes because their length can get in the way. But, even with the different looks Minnesota can give him defensively, it will always be hard to contain such a gifted player like Morant.
4) What matchup are you looking forward to tonight?
I think a lot of people will be focused on the Ant and Ja matchup. I don’t necessarily think they will be matched up on each other much, but the athleticism between those too is (almost literally) sky-high. But I will pivot and give a different answer. I am stoked to see Karl-Anthony Towns and Jaren Jackson Jr. match up. Trip is a fantastic defender and can not only defend the paint but also move on the wing. Towns will likely have his hands full deciding whether to drive or shoot. I hope those two stay matched up for most of the game.
5) The Minnesota Timberwolves are currently seventh in the Western Conference, two games ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers. What are your expectations for the remainder of the season? What is the Timberwolves’ ceiling?
I think the Wolves have met most fans’ expectations from the beginning of the year. But, after seeing how they have performed, the expectations have been raised. They are only a couple of games from beating the Vegas win total over-under from before the season, but now we have our sights set on the 6th seed. It won’t be easy to do that, but I think it is doable. The Wolves are only 2.5 games back from Denver for the 6th spot and 4 games back from Dallas for the 5th spot. I’d like them to get to 6 to hopefully face the Grizzlies in round 1 and avoid the play-in altogether.
While no matchup in the playoffs is a *good* one for Minnesota, I think the Grizzlies give the Wolves the best chance of making it to the second round. It isn’t a slight against them, but I just think their style is the best bet for Minnesota. The expectation for the Wolves has to be that they stay at least at the 7 seed and don’t slip any lower, but I think the ceiling is the 5th seed is all goes really well after the break.