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Game Preview #11: Wolves vs Grizzlies

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Back at full strength, the Timberwolves look to build a winning streak against the Grizzlies.

Houston Rockets v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Wolves (3-7) vs Grizzlies (4-6)

7:00 pm CST

FS North / WCCO Radio

The Pack is back.

Tonight, both Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie will once again return to the lineup for a pivotal matchup against a depleted Memphis Grizzlies team, as the Wolves look to build on their Sunday night defensive dominance against the San Antonio Spurs.

Despite losing Jaren Jackson Jr. to a torn meniscus in the bubble, from which he is still recovering from, and Ja Morant to a serious ankle sprain back on December 28th against the Nets, the Grizzlies have remained competitive. Surprisingly, the Grizzlies have gone 4-4 since Morant went down in Brooklyn. Impressively, two of those wins have come against the Brooklyn Nets, one of the deepest squads in the Association (at least before the James Harden trade).

Recently, the Wolves have struggled with the Grizzlies. Memphis won all three games last season by at least 7 points, won two of four in 2018-19, and won two of three in 2017-18.

There’s plenty of reason to believe that tonight will help Minnesota climb out of the hole against a scrappy, tough Memphis squad, though.

Memphis ranks 28th in offensive rating, but ranks 4th in defensive rating, which makes for a net rating that is 20th in the NBA, per Cleaning the Glass. While playing at full strength, Minnesota is 12th in offense and 8th in defense, good for 7th in the league in net rating.

Simply put, the Wolves play with a completely different energy when Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie are in the lineup, for obvious reasons. Towns is what makes heart that pumps life to the rest of the offense, while Okogie is the quarterback of a defense that looks like the 0-16 Cleveland Browns without him.

Tonight, Towns will have his hands full with one of the most physically imposing big in the entire NBA. Jonas Valanciunas is a 7-foot, 265-pound tank that loves to body up his matchups and back them down in the post. Given that Towns is playing with one hand, the matchup could be problematic for him. In Saturday’s game against the Spurs, Aldridge started to attack Towns’s left side in the paint because he knew Towns wasn’t going to contest as closely with his injured left hand/wrist. Look for Valanciunas to do the same.

Minnesota allows opponents to shoot 38.4 percent from 3, which is 25th in the NBA, but despite that, Valanciunas is likely the Grizzlies’ best offensive option considering that Memphis shoots just 33.2 percent from deep and 44.7 percent from the floor.

To make matters better, notorious Wolves assassin Dillon Brooks is off to a tough start this season, too. He’s averaging 17.4 points on just 39.8/32.9/82.6 shooting percentage splits, 4.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 2.7 turnovers in 30.4 minutes per game. Assuming Josh Okogie is tasked with slowing him down, the former Oregon Duck should continue to struggle to score efficiently.

Outside of Brooks, the Grizzlies are devoid of solid perimeter scoring. Both Kyle Anderson and Grayson Allen are struggling to get anything going this season or shoot with any consistency. The pair averages just 13.5 and 5.3 points per game, respectively, while neither are shooting better than 41.5 percent from the floor or 30 percent from 3.

Minnesota legend Tyus Jones returns to Minnesota very similar to the player that we grew to love here. A heady player that has a knack for getting others involved and coming up with steals and loose balls on defense. As he was last year, Jones is among the league leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio. The former Apple Valley star is averaging 5.6 assists to just 1.1 turnovers per game.

For Minnesota, tonight needs to be a big night for both D’Angelo Russell and NBA StarMalik Beasley. Both are playing excellent basketball of late and have started to find that same energy and rhythm they had towards the end of last season. Both have been better players at Target Center than they have on the road, so that comfortability combined with facing subpar defenders in Tyus Jones and Dillon Brooks, respectively, should put them in excellent positions to attack a spaced out floor with KAT back in the lineup. With Okogie back as well, neither will have to pull as much weight as they have been recently, which should help their offensive games out as well.

I expect Ryan Saunders to deploy some zone looks at times as an effort to both force a poor 3-point shooting team to make shots, as well as discourage post-ups from Valanciunas when KAT is on the floor.

Perhaps the most interesting decision Ryan Saunders will make tonight is when and how he will utilize Jarred Vanderbilt in this one. Vanderbilt saw some minutes with starters against the Spurs on Sunday and is a very strong fit next to KAT in the front court. The Okogie/Vanderbilt combo has some very real potential to be one of the league’s more disruptive duos defensively that can also help KAT clear the glass, start fast breaks, and let D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley focus on sprinting down the floor and spot-up for 3-point looks on the wing.

I expect to see a big game from Anthony Edwards tonight as well, who will likely see either Desmond Bane or Grayson Allen as his matchup. Both players are too small to slow him down on the drive and I expect the Wolves to put the ball in his hands more tonight than they have in the past few games. If he sees the much smaller De’Anthony Melton, who at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, is an excellent perimeter defender in his own right, he may struggle to get in a rhythm.

Ultimately, with KAT and Josh Okogie back in the lineup, the Wolves simply have too much offense and too much talent for the Grizzlies to keep pace. In the first of a two-game series with Memphis in Minneapolis, expect the train to keep rolling and the Wolves to inch closer to .500.

Winner of the Day

This season, I’ve posted a gambling pick for each game of the Timberwolves’ season. So far this season, I am 6-3-1, and enjoying having something extra to watch for while watching each game. For those picks, and all my Wolves analysis, you can follow me on Twitter @jrborman13.

As I mentioned above, I just think this Wolves team is far too talented and far too confident in the way they are playing right now to drop what is essentially a must-win game to a depleted Memphis team that struggles to score effectively or get consistent production outside of Valanciunas.

I think the line of Minnesota -2 is a bit of an overreaction to how terrible the Wolves were without Towns and Okogie. My projections have the Wolves closer to -5.5, so I feel more than comfortable taking Minnesota with the points.

The pick: Minnesota -2

Projected Lineups

Grizzlies (confirmed)

Tyus Jones

Dillon Brooks

Kyle Anderson

Brandon Clarke

Jonas Valanciunas

Wolves (confirmed)

D’Angelo Russell

Malik Beasley

Josh Okogie

Juancho Hernangomez

Karl-Anthony Towns