I hope Lionel Hollins packed his headache medicine for this trip to Minneapolis. After looking at his team's rotation, he'll need it.
Minnesota Timberwolves (5-0) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (2-3) at Target Center
With Zach Randolph out for 6-8 weeks with an MCL injury, and Marreesse Speights may not be available yet following his trade from Philadelphia, the Memphis Grizzlies' frontcourt rotation is thin to say the least. Given that the Grizzlies never really had a great backcourt rotation, they have been struggling as of late. Coming into Minneapolis to face the Minnesota Timberwolves, who have put together a great start to the 2011-2012 season, is one of the last things that Memphis needs right now.
The Timberwolves are on Game 4 of a 5-game homestand, after which they'll have games on the road against Washington and Toronto, before playing Chicago again at home next Tuesday to complete their first back-to-back-to-back of the season. At the end of that whirlwind stretch of games, it is easy to believe that the Wolves could be 10-0.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let's break down the matchups in this game against Memphis:
How long until we can officially say that Ricky Rubio is the best basketball player in this picture? Trick question. We're already there.
Darko Milicic vs. Marc Gasol
After signing a 4-years, $58 million extension with the Grizzlies this offseason, Marc Gasol's numbers are up in nearly every statistical category. He's shooting nearly 63% from the field and is averaging a double-double through 5 games. Even before Z-Bo went down with his injury, it would have been a sound argument that Gasol was the best player on the Grizzlies and certainly the most consistent.
Unfortunately for Marc, he has played with Ricky Rubio for years over in Spain and Rubio knows all about Gasol's tendencies, strengths and weaknesses. I'd be willing to wager that Rubio and Rick Adelman have spent a couple of hours picking apart Gasol's game on film and that Gasol will get shut down tonight by Darko, Randolph, Love and whoever else is assigned to guard him tonight.
Winner: Darko Milicic
All he wanted for Christmas was his two front teeth, but sadly, Santa dissed him once again.
Kevin Love vs. Dante Cunningham
There are a lot of Cunninghams who would do a better job tonight against Kevin Love. Randall Cunningham. Richie Cunningham. Even the 14th Earl of Glencaim James Cunningham. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies are stuck with Dante Cunningham. Cunningham's backup (if Speights cannot play) is Josh Davis, who if you didn't know better, you might assume was one of those made-up NBA2K players. So far in 4 games, Davis is shooting 27% from the floor and averaging slightly more rebounds (1.5) than personal fouls (1.3).
Kevin Love, meanwhile, has 5 double-doubles in 5 games and is looking to surpass last year's streak. He's also shooting 44% from three-point range and his Defensive Rating has even improved from 108 points allowed per 100 possessions to 97 points allowed per 100 possessions.
Against Cunningham and Davis, Love should get at least 25 rebounds tonight.
Winner: Kevin Love
How can anyone even argue about Kevin Love getting a max deal when Rudy Gay already has one?
Michael Beasley vs. Rudy Gay
Through his first 5 games of the season, Rudy Gay is sporting a .009 WS/48 and a TS% of 434.
Gay's points per-36 are down, his TOV% is up and his ORtg has gone from 108 to 88. Oh yeah, and he'll get paid more than $13 million this season. When you consider his salary, is Gay the most overpaid wing player in the entire NBA?
Maybe there's a reason the Grizzlies looked so much better when Gay was on the shelf during last year's playoffs.
Winner: Michael Beasley
Tony Allen has the 23rd worst TS% in the NBA and the 24th highest turnover rate. His Twitter account is definitely the most offensive thing about him.
Wesley Johnson vs. Tony Allen
Tony Allen is not a great offensive player. That's often been dismissed because Allen is so good at defense that it makes up for his poor offensive skills.
Kevin Love is a great offensive player. That's often been dismissed because Love is so bad at defense that it negates his offensive and rebounding skills.
So why is it that Tony Allen's defensive rating is 100, while Kevin Love's is 97 (the lower the better)? Even if you look at defensive plays against Love and Allen this season, you can see that opponents shoot only a little bit worse from the field against Allen than Love (41% to 37%), but shoot much worse from 3 against Love (20% to Allen's 36.4%) and turn the ball over more against Love (9.1% to Allen's 8.8%).
Overall, opponents have scored on 38.6% of possessions against Kevin Love and 38.2% of possessions against Tony Allen.
So, there's an obvious question to ask: is Tony Allen an overrated defender or is Kevin Love an underrated one? I think Wesley Johnson might prove it to be the former in tonight's game, but the answer could be both.
Winner: Wesley Johnson
Last night against Sacramento, both O.J. Mayo and Mike Conley started the game on the bench and played less than 24 minutes.
Luke Ridnour vs. Mike Conley
Jeremy Pargo is an undrafted guard out of Gonzaga who spent the past two seasons playing for Hapoel Gilboa Galil Elyon and Maccabi Tel Aviv B.C. You may be more familiar with his brother, Jannero Pargo, who has been a part of playoff teams in Los Angeles, New Orleans and Chicago. Jeremy, however, has started 3 of the Grizzlies 5 games this season at point guard, due in part to Mike Conley's injured ankle and in part due to Mike Conley being a below average basketball player.
It appears that Conley is going to get the start again in tonight's game, which is probably a plus for the Timberwolves, with Conley being a below average basketball player and all. The decision to award him that large extension seemed like a bad one mere seconds after it happened and it does not look any better now.
I've spent enough time talking about Ricky Rubio in these previews so far, but there was one moment from Monday night's game that I wanted to mention:
Luke Ridnour, despite having many of his own fans cheering for him to go to the bench for a large portion of games - even games in which the Wolves are winning - has acted like a true professional on the court and has continued to give good effort when he is in the game. His performance on Monday was fantastic - 7 of 10 for 19 points and 9 assists - and Ricky Rubio, who was only mediocre, still got the post-game interview from B Wright.
I think while we all enjoy our shiny new point guard, Mr. Rubio, we should still make it a point to acknowledge when Ridnour plays well and not brush that aside so quickly.
Winner: Luke Ridnour
My Prediction: Timberwolves 108 - Memphis Grizzlies 89
Timberwolves' Record: 6-0