The season opener is upon us. Tonight, the Wolves open the season on the road in Memphis, at the Grindhouse, vs. the Grizzlies. This is the preview.
Grit. Grind. Grizzlies.
One thing Flip Saunders has constantly talked about throughout training camp and preseason is creating an identity in Minnesota. The Wolves haven't had a clear-cut identity since... forever. Not a positive one at least. Last year's identity was probably "least-clutch team in the league."
While the Wolves new identity will begin to take shape this season, and is certainly something to monitor throughout the entire year, their first opponent doesn't share that problem. By now, the league knows exactly what to expect when facing Memphis. It's going to be a defensive-oriented, half-court dogfight. And a slow one at that. The Grizzlies brand is an old school, inside-first, physical style. They'll beat you up.
The Grizzlies finished last in PACE in 2013 at 92.2 -- the number of possessions a team uses per game -- and struggled to score the ball all year (96.1 ppg -- 27th in NBA) but combated their scoring deficiency by holding opponents to a meager 94.6 ppg. That was third best in the league behind Chicago and Indiana.
If the Wolves want to start the season with a victory, they'll need to push the tempo in transition and make Memphis play a faster style than they're accustomed to. Saunders and the coaching staff would also be wise to pack the paint on defense and dare Conley and company to beat them from deep.
A full season from Courtney Lee and Vince Carter should help, but the Grizzlies were arguably the least threatening 3-point shooting team in the league last year (last in 3-pointers made per game, as well as attempts, 4.9 - 14.0). Forcing the ball out of the hands of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, and on to the perimeter, should be a point of emphasis.
Key Matchup: Ricky Rubio vs. Mike Conley
Whichever point guard can establish his team's style of play more effectively will likely come out victorious. Simple enough, right? Rubio needs to get the Wolves running in transition and playing at a blistering yet controlled pace. Conley excels at finding his big men - namely Gasol and Randolph - in the halfcourt, and lets them go to work, but he can hit a shot if asked to. Both players are also elite defenders at the point guard position, and leaders to their respective teams. It's always fun to watch these two duel it out.
Another matchup to keep an eye on tonight is...
New Wolves power forward Thad Young vs. the bruising Zach "Z-Bo" Randolph. It will be interesting to see how Young defends the more offensively inclined and physically punishing Randolph. Vice versa, how Randolph defends the quicker more agile Young will be something to watch for.
Of course, let's not forget about the battle of centers. Gasol and Koufos vs. Pekovic and Dieng should be an entertaining matchup. These are two of the better center duos in the league.
And hell, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't super intrigued to watch Andrew Wiggins (*most likely) go head-to-head against one of the leagues finest wing defenders in Tony Allen. Wiggins should aim to draw a few early fouls on Allen, get to the line for a couple of freebies, and force Joerger to go to Vince Carter earlier than he'd like.
*I'm going to assume the Grizz will put Courtney Lee on Kevin Martin, because that seems more reasonable.
Here's a quick video preview of tonight's widely anticipated season opener:
How about some GIFs that we may actually see in tonight's game!
"WHAT!!?? A foul... a foul you say... on me... Marc? Marc Gasol? That's absurd!"
"I'm Ricky Rubio, I'm not like anybody else. Haven't you seen me pass the basketball!?"
"I AM MARC, GOD OF CENT-AHHHHHHHHHH MY ASS..."
In other words, "I LOVE MY PARENTS SO MUCH FOR GETTING ME THESE SEATS. Z-BO IS MY SPIRIT ANIMAL!!"
"Why, thank you for the beautiful lob pass, Ricky."
- Love, Andrew
And finally, Rubio is bound to "Aron Baynes" somebody on Memphis. My bet is ex-Timberwolves
star center, Kosta Koufos.
As for music, this tune is awesome and seems fitting. Return of the
Discuss what you expect below...
To an 82-0 season we go!