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Grizzlies 107, Wolves 105: The Boys Are Back

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After 277 days, the Timberwolves returned to the court in Minneapolis on Saturday night in an entertaining preseason-opening loss to Memphis, 107-105.

Memphis Grizzlies v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

It was an emotional night at Target Center, where the Minnesota Timberwolves fell to the Grizzlies, 107-105, in the new-look squad’s first preseason exhibition game.

With tears in his eyes, Karl-Anthony Towns took the floor for the first time since a February 10th loss to the Raptors in Toronto. Once he won the tip, the superstar big man wasted no time getting things going offensively, scoring the first six points for the Wolves via two aggressive and-ones on drives from the perimeter.

The starting five (Russell, Beasley, Okogie, Layman, and Towns) had great spacing, which opened up driving lanes for KAT, Malik Beasley, and Josh Okogie, which led to some open weak-side 3s and easy buckets underneath for the Wolves in the early going. Surprisingly, KAT and D-Lo ran very few pick-and-rolls in the first quarter, which is something Minnesota will need to look to implement more in the final two preseason games. Layman was excellent on defense in the first frame, contesting shots on the back-side, trapping underneath the hoop on baseline drives, and battling on the glass. That five played the first 4:32 of the game and led 12-11 when Rubio replaced Russell and Edwards replaced Okogie.

Edwards got off to a slow start offensively, but stayed active on the defensive end, forcing a few deflections and remaining competitive defensively. Rubio upped the pace the team played with, looking to throw more hit-ahead passes, even after made baskets, which will be a huge plus for this team. Guys like Jake Layman, who is an excellent cutter and off-ball player, will benefit greatly from his ability to keep defenses on their heels.

At the under 4 media timeout, Russell checked back in to play with Rubio and we got a glimpse of what the offense will look like with those two on the floor: a ton of dribble hand-off actions. In the first three offensive possessions they shared, Rubio/Russell ran two DHOs and a drag screen. It is clear the Wolves either want Russell shooting in rhythm coming around screens or putting the ball on the deck and getting to the rim or pulling up for open looks in the mid-range. Anthony Edwards, Jake Layman, and Ed Davis filled out the lineup in the 3:09 of game action we saw Rubio and Russell share the floor.

Memphis led after 1, 34-27.

In the second quarter, Jarrett Culver saw his first action, playing alongside D-Lo, Edwards, Layman, and Davis. Culver scored just three points on four shots, but he was excellent at the point of attack defensively and his added strength showed through his ability to cut players off on drives. Culver’s shot looked a little better than last year, but we only saw one jumper, a 3 he confidently stepped into and drained coming. JC wanted to attack, as three of his four shots came on looks near the rim. Most importantly, Culver looked confident all night long and hopefully that will continue.

Edwards found his groove a bit more offensively in the second quarter, scoring five points on two pull-up jumpers coming out of the PnR. His usage on the ball was something I listed in my “What to Watch For” piece and it was undoubtedly where he was at his best. He looked noticeably more confident shooting the ball off the dribble than off the catch, as both of his makes were in rhythm, off the dribble shots.

NBA Star Malik Beasley had a nice showing defensively tonight, and he was at his best in the second quarter. He was active off the ball and had a few nice deflections that evidenced his seemingly improved vision off the ball. Beasley seemed less lost at first watch than he did at times last season. It’s just one game, but it could be a nice building block for him going forward.

After a nice sprint from the Wolves to tie things up with 3:00 left in the half, the Grizzlies had a late flurry and took a 60-54 lead into the locker room.

The starters returned to start the second half and came out firing. Jake Layman had 8 points in the third quarter behind two 3s and breathed some life into a Wolves offense that struggled from inside the arc (39.5 percent shooting). He exited for the night at the 7:28 mark of the third, with 10 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, and a block. Layman was a team high +11 in 20 minutes, making an excellent case for starting at the 4 spot to begin the season.

Once the starters left the floor, Jaylen Nowell completely took over the game.

He had just two points in about four minutes in the third quarter, but once he came out to start the fourth, he turned it on. The 2019 second-round pick out of Washington showed exactly what he did in Iowa last season: shoot the hell out of the ball and put pressure on the defense. He functioned as the team’s third point guard and played all 13 of his minutes at the 1. Nowell ran the PnR effectively and exhibited supreme confidence in his scoring at all three levels. He pulled up coming around high ball screens for deep 3s, hit a couple of tough leaners in the mid-range and got to the line for seven foul shots as well. Even more impressively, Nowell out-scored the entire Grizzlies team by himself in the fourth quarter.

Despite trailing for pretty much the entire second half, the end of the Wolves’ bench competed very well and truly made it a game in the last three minutes of the fourth quarter tonight. Perhaps the plays of the night came in the final minute of the night for Minnesota:

First, St. Croix Lutheran and University of Denver alum Ade Murkey almost had the put-back of the year in the preseason.

Jaylen Nowell followed it up with a prayer at the buzzer to cap off his incredible showing with the NBA club tonight in Minneapolis.

All in all, the Wolves looked like we expected them to tonight: an energetic crew of young guys looking to earn minutes that still need time to gel and build chemistry. In his post-game presser, Ricky Rubio noted that it will take some time.

As the Wolves get more practices under their belt, I expect them to turn it over less than the 22 times they did tonight.

The Wolves will have some time to ice up tomorrow before getting back to it at Target Center on Monday night for a rematch with the Grizzlies.

Game Highlights

Game Notes

  • Ricky Rubio did not play in the second half.
  • The Wolves were terrific from deep, shooting 37.1 percent on 35 triggers, and from the free throw line tonight, connecting on 24 of 32 freebies (75 percent).
  • The Wolves actually won on the glass tonight 51-49, but Memphis was playing without Brandon Clarke and Jaren Jackson Jr., two of their best rebounders.
  • Minnesota only generated six fast-break points, but did turn 15 Grizzlies turnovers into 24 points.
  • Jaylen Nowell made more 3s tonight (four) than he made all of last season for the NBA Wolves (three in 26 attempts).

Catch the Wolves back in action at Target Center on Monday night against the Grizzlies at 7 PM CT on Fox Sports North.