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Pack Points: Maddening in Memphis

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Wolves lose their second straight game.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Well, all that fun that the Timberwolves had filled our lives with has been promptly sapped after that one. When the horror show ended, the Memphis Grizzlies came away with a 137-121 win and the Wolves were handed their first losing streak of the fresh campaign.

Memphis came into the night 1-5 on the season, but they looked like the superior squad for much of the night in the warm comfort of the FedExForum. Minnesota was down a duo of ball-handlers, with Jeff Teague and Shabazz Napier missing the tilt through illness and injury, respectively.

With their two losses before Wednesday night coming to Eastern Conference powerhouses Philadelphia and Milwaukee, this was the first really bad stumble for Minnesota.

So let’s take a look at some of the keys to the game.

Despicable Defense

Minnesota’s overhauled defensive system had looked to be flourishing lately, but that wasn’t the case in this one. Put simply, you can’t allow a team of Memphis’ ilk to 56 percent from the field and 53 percent from long-range. That’s a recipe for a blowout.

The Wolves were constantly late rotating to shooters and drivers, allowing far too much space for the likes of Dillon Brooks, Ja Morant, and Brandon Clarke — and all three made them pay. Even Karl-Anthony Towns, who had begun the season with a previously unseen zest defensively, looked to regress back to his sluggish ways.

Granted, the entire Grizzlies squad was making some shots that the Timberwolves would have felt satisfied giving up. David Vanterpool’s deep-drop pick-and-roll defense invites the opponent to shoot mid-range jumpers, which has been working like a charm thus far, but Memphis bucked the trend. They shot 6-11 on mid-range jumpers, including a couple of Brooks daggers in the last quarter.

The Wolves can’t afford to make that kind of defensive effort a habit.

A Board Bashing

The fears that Minnesota’s small-ball lineup would struggle to rebound were realized tonight. Outside of Karl-Anthony Towns and his 13 caroms, Minnesota just couldn’t get their fingerprints on the rebounding battle. When the final whistle blew, the Wolves were out-rebounded 49-36.

Robert Covington, who has been the starting power forward this season and doing a pretty good job on the glass, finished with just a pair of boards. As did Andrew Wiggins (although that is less surprising). On the other end, Memphis was feasting, with nine of the 11 players featured in their rotation ripping down more than 3 rebounds.

When you can’t defend and can’t rebound, winning is pretty much impossible.

Wasted shooting

We have discussed it multiple times during this season, but the Timberwolves shoot the 3-ball. Like, a lot. Unfortunately, they don’t have the troop of shooters needed to consistently hit them at a high clip.

Tonight, they seemed to be in a rhythm, but the aforementioned deficiencies meant it was a wasted hot-shooting performance. On nights you get multiple triples from Towns, Covington, Andrew Wiggins, Jarrett Culver and Treveon Graham, you better make the most of it.

On the season, the Timberwolves are now jacking up 41.1 3-pointers per game, good for the third-highest clip in the league. Discouragingly, they are making just 32.6 percent of them, the sixth-worst mark league-wide, per NBA.com.

Bright Spots

For all the disheartening points this game served up, there were a few bright spots.

The most obvious was Andrew Wiggins, who continued to perform and bring tourists and potential buyers into Wiggins Island. His 30 points were a season-high and, as has become a theme of late, he did it efficiently, shooting 11-21 from the field and 3-8 from behind the arc. He was also dishing some pinpoint dimes again, tying a season-high with his six assists.

None more pretty than this pirouetting perfection.

Along with Wiggins, the Point Culver experiment worked pretty well. Culver stepped up for his debut NBA start with Teague and Napier sidelined and looked far more comfortable with the ball in his hands than he had in a secondary or tertiary scoring role off the pine.

The sixth overall pick finished with 16 points (5-13 FG, 2-5 3PT), 5 rebounds and 7 assists in a career-high 30 minutes. He made some nice reads out of pick-and-roll and playing next to Karl-Anthony Towns and Robert Covington opened up the floor for him to attack the basket without being swamped by defenders.

After posting 20 points a few nights ago against Washington, hopefully this gives his confidence another bump. As for Wiggins, we can only hope this hot stretch is not another flash in the pan.