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Game Preview #60: Wolves vs Grizzlies

The Wolves begin their playoff push at home against Ja Morant and the Grizzlies.

Memphis Grizzlies v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Game Info

  • Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (31-28) vs Memphis Grizzlies (41-19)
  • When: 7:10 pm CT
  • Where: Target Center
  • TV: Bally Sports North Plus / NBA League Pass
  • Radio: 830 WCCO AM Radio
  • Line: Wolves +1.5 | O/U 239.5


What to Watch For

Entering the All-Star break, these were two of the hottest offenses in the NBA.

Over the last 10 games, the Memphis Grizzlies and Minnesota Timberwolves are first and second in scoring, respectively, first and fifth in pace, first and sixth in free throws attempted, and 25th and 26th in free throws allowed (h/t Joe Osborne).

The central focus of these teams’ scoring, however, has been much different during that span.

Memphis is first in both points in the paint per game (62.8) and percentage of points scored in the paint (50.6%), as well as fourth in percent of points scored from 2 (56.6%), while ranking 27th in percentage of points scored from 3 (27.3%).

Minnesota third in percentage of points scored from 3 (38.3%), while ranking 27th in percent of points scored from 2 (46.3%).

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

These teams are connected in the speed at which they want to play. Both are top three in the league in percent of points scored in transition and fast break points overall, and each side will want to use their respective athleticism to create an advantage. Ja Morant and Anthony Edwards are primed to go shot-for-shot as home run hitters on the break.

Consequently, it will be imperative for the Wolves to take care of the ball and operate efficiently in the half court.

When Chris Finch’s team collapsed in the fourth quarter of the growing rivals’ first matchup, it was largely those two issues rearing their heads. Minnesota committed 16 turnovers in the game that led to 28 points and allowed a 23-9 run over the final 5:03 that forced overtime, with three of those Wolves points coming on a crazy buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Karl-Anthony Towns.

Less than two weeks later, the Wolves annihilated the Grizzlies by 43 points because they held Morant in check and scored 30 points off 16 Memphis turnovers, while holding the Grizzlies to eight points off turnovers. Perhaps most importantly, all of Minnesota’s Big 3 scored more than 20 points on at least 50% shooting, while the team dominated with an inside-out offense that scored 52 points in the paint and 60 points off 3s.

Memphis Grizzlies v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

While the Wolves’ defense has been sputtering of late, there’s reason for hope that it can rebound in the second half. The biggest reason for the for the team’s defensive efficiency dip was simply that its players were collectively exhausted. The All-Star break gave banged up players such as Jarred Vanderbilt, D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards and Patrick Beverley much-needed time off to recharge and refocus.

A healthy Vanderbilt is a legitimate defensive weapon who can guard 1 through 5 and position himself anywhere on the floor whether it is in the team’s traditional high-wall scheme or in a switching concept. We all know what Beverley can do on the ball defensively, and how crucial Russell’s communication is to a successful defense, too.

Tonight will be a great measuring stick for how Minnesota can force a powerful offense into the half court and use its set defense as a tool that can win the team games rather than lose them.

Although the Wolves ultimately cannot control how many shots the Grizzlies make, they can control whether or not they take care of the ball and, more generally, the quality of shots they get in the half court. With a trio like Towns, Edwards and Russell, it should be possible to get a good shot nearly every trip down the floor .

Minnesota ranks second in shot quality this season, per PBP Stats, and first since the dawn of the New Year.

An exciting addition to that offensive process, according to Finch, will be more prominently featuring Towns.

Towns has been arguably the league’s most versatile scorer through the lens of Synergy play type data. So, finding ways to get him the ball more literally anywhere on the floor is undoubtedly a good idea, and one that supports two major end goals for the Wolves this season: making the playoffs and securing Towns a spot on the Third Team All-NBA. The latter is important, because it would enable Towns to sign a supermax contract and keep him in Minnesota for two additional seasons beyond any other extension he could sign this offseason.

After Towns’ return from Cleveland as a three-time All-Star selection and a 3-point contest champion, there’s no doubt that the Wolves are getting a version of their franchise cornerstone they have never seen before. Towns has never been this confident in a Wolves uniform and he’ll be ready to show it at home in front of a packed crowd ready to explode at a moment’s notice.

But most importantly, Finch and the team are getting a truly happy Karl-Anthony Towns.


Status Reports

Minnesota

OUT:

  • McKinley Wright IV (left UCL injury)
  • Leandro Bolmaro (G-League Assignment)

Memphis

OUT:

  • Dillon Brooks (left ankle sprain)
  • Yves Pons (left thigh soreness)
  • Tyrell Terry (G-League Assignment)

Gambling Pick

I tweet out a gambling pick before every Wolves game over on my Twitter @jrborman13. So far this season, I am 28-30 (48%).

Tonight’s play: Jaden McDaniels over 9.5 points

  • Over 9.5 points in six of his last eight games
  • Averaging 12.6 PPG in last 10 games
  • Increasing role: averaging 30.2 MPG in last five games; up from 26.2 MPG on the season
  • Shooting 53.3% overall and 37.5% from 3 in last 10 games