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Game Preview #49: Wolves at Grizzlies

The Jaden McDaniels show is back on the road, this time clamping up Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies.

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

Game Info

Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (12-36) at Memphis Grizzlies (22-23)

When: 7:00pm CST

TV: Bally Sports North (streaming on the Fox Sports Go app)

Radio: 830 WCCO AM Radio

What To Watch For

After another tantalizing performance from Seattle’s finest against Tom Thibodeau’s New York Knicks, the Jaden McDaniels show is back on the road again in Memphis to face a gritty Grizzlies team that has been up-and-down over the last 10 games.

The Grizzlies are 5-5 over their last 10, but have really struggled on the offensive end of the floor. Memphis is dead last in 3-point percentage (31.0%) in that stretch, but have remained competitive during it because they led the NBA in rebounding (49.3 RPG). Conversely, the Wolves are 29th in rebounding (32.0 RPG) in their last 10, but have made up for it by getting to the free throw line, where they have averaged 24.6 attempts a game, good for third in the NBA.

Despite their differences in strengths/weaknesses, both teams play extremely fast. The Grizzlies’ runaway fast break train is engineered by Ja Morant, one of the most exhilarating athletes in professional sports, who has Memphis playing the third-quickest pace in the NBA over the last 10. Minnesota is T-seventh in that span, fueled by Anthony Edwards’ thunderous transition jams and McDaniels’ leak-outs off rebounds.

The Grizzlies are much more of a scoring-by-committee team (no 20 PPG scorers over the last 10) and share the ball very well, which allows them to find mismatches on most trips down the floor and capitalize on them. Morant is a vicious downhill attacker, who has been deadly against Minnesota in previous games, especially in the pick-and-roll (PnR). The Wolves have since adapted to their personnel defensively and started moving away from standard drop coverage (and inviting guards into the paint) and more towards an aggressive at-the-level coverage that involves more switching on ball screens and using McDaniels to fight over screens. With McDaniels in the fold — and getting more comfortable with checking the opposing team’s best player at 20 years old — Minnesota is much better equipped to slow down the young star than they were last last season.

Given the Wolves have the No. 6 defense with McDaniels on the floor, I expect Minnesota to match his minutes with Morant’s in order to maximize the rookie’s impact on defense.

Morant didn’t play in the teams’ first matchup this season, but last season he averaged 25.5 points per game on 56.8% shooting — without making a single 3 — en route to a 3-0 season record against the Wolves. We don’t need to talk about what Dillon Brooks did to the Wolves last year (28.3 PPG, 53.7% FG, 68.8% 3PT), but let’s hope he doesn’t have the same impact tonight. If the Wolves can contain Morant and Brooks, they will have to close out to Grayson Allen and Desmond Bane, who killed the Wolves from behind the arc in their first game against the Grizzlies.

Memphis Grizzlies v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

On the Minnesota side of the house, they will force Grizzlies center Jonas Valanciunas to defend in space against Karl-Anthony Towns. With Jaden McDaniels seemingly a lock to be a starter moving forward, Memphis can’t hide Valanciunas on a non-shooter (him guarding Rubio is rather doubtful), so the big man will be tasked with guarding Towns on the perimeter and in the post.

In their 10 career matchups, here are the stats:

  • Karl-Anthony Towns: 22.7 points, 12.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.4 steals and 1.5 blocks
  • Jonas Valanciunas: 15.0 points, 9.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.7 blocks

Memphis can’t double Towns above the break, while they can in the post, so in order to milk as much as they can out of that mismatch, I expect Chris Finch to get Towns the ball at the top of the key as a creator as much as possible. Valanciunas is a solid post-up defender (51st percentile, per Synergy), but ranks in the sixth percentile as an isolation defender. Plays like this involving Towns and Edwards would be a good way to attack Valanciunas and/or create easy opportunities for McDaniels/Malik Beasley in the opposite corner.

The Wolves will have to be active on offense tonight and make a very good Grizzlies defense (seventh in defensive rating) work as much as possible. With Beasley back in the fold and Edwards finding his rhythm again, the Wolves are in a good position to do that tonight.

Injury Reports

Josh Okogie is listed as available as he works his way out of the NBA’s healthy and safety protocols. Given he has only missed a week, it’s fair to assume Okogie did not have COVID-19, thankfully. He’s back to give it a go tonight against the Grizzlies and will enable the Wolves to have one elite perimeter defender on the floor at all times between him and McDaniels.

Ricky Rubio was added to the injury report around 5 PM CT with back spasms. He is questionable, but given his late addition, I’d be pretty surprised if he got run tonight. I would expect either Edwards or McLaughlin to take over the point guard duties in the starting 5, with either Okogie or McLaughlin taking Rubio’s spot in the starting lineup.

D’Angelo Russell is still out while he recovers from his left knee surgery, but he is expected to return next week. As Kyle pointed out in yesterday’s preview, Russell has been a full participant in Wolves’ practice/shoot-arounds this week.

As for Memphis, Jaren Jackson Jr. is still out while he recovers from a torn left meniscus he suffered in the NBA bubble in Orlando last summer. Justise Winslow is out as well with right thigh soreness, and will miss his third consecutive game.

Grayson Allen is questionable, after he missed Wednesday night’s loss against the Jazz with left hip soreness. Given he had an off-day yesterday, I’d think he plays tonight, but who knows. If Allen is out, it’d be a big blow to a Grizzlies team who has very few shooters on the roster outside of him, a 40.6% 3-point shooter.

Memphis Grizzlies v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Betting Pick

As of 2PM CT, here is the current betting landscape for tonight’s game:

Spread: Minnesota +6.5 (MEM has 53% of bets and 86% of money, per Action Network)

Total: 230.5 points (Over has 55% of bets and 75% of money)

Moneyline: Minnesota +215 (MEM has 54% of bets and 97% of money)

I’ve given out a betting pick for every game of the Timberwolves season and have a record of 26-21-1 (55.3%).

Tonight’s play: Ricky Rubio under 9.5 points (-115).

Rubio has gone under 9.5 points in five consecutive games despite attempting four 3s per game. In those five games, he’s shot 15% from 3. With Beasley back in the lineup and McDaniels finding his groove offensively, he’s been much more of a facilitator and I expect the majority of his looks to come from deep tonight, from which he shot 27.5% in March. The Grizzlies are a tough defensive team, which will require the Wolves to run everything through Towns, Edwards, Beasley and McDaniels when they’re on the floor together. This action will only count if Rubio plays tonight.

If Rubio can’t go, I like Karl-Anthony Towns over 4.5 assists. Memphis allows 4.0 assists to opposing centers, but Towns’s usage is higher than nearly every other starting center in the NBA and will have more playmaking opportunities if Rubio can’t go. Towns has had over 4.5 assists in four of his last five games, too.

Best of luck tonight and Go Wolves!