The Minnesota Timberwolves won a hard, grueling battle with the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night in Downtown Minneapolis. That win brings them a series against the Memphis Grizzlies, who have been playing extremely well this season.
The series tips off on Saturday afternoon at FedEx Forum in Memphis Tennessee. There will be a number of pieces written and podcasts recorded to preview the series as a whole, so I’ll keep this piece shorter and more focused on Game 1.
As we head into this matchup, Game 1 should tell us a lot about how Taylor Jenkins, head coach for the Grizzlies, and Chris Finch will game plan for their respective squads. The biggest thing that could determine this matchup will be the, well, matchups.
Both teams have a handful of players that will cause trouble for each other. Wolves fans should be excited that they have their own three headed monster to throw at Memphis. Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, and D’Angelo Russell can each carry their team to a win on any given night.
Let’s take a look at the Grizzlies presumed starters and how they will likely match up with the Wolves’ first five.
PG: Ja Morant guarding Patrick Beverley
Besides Jarred Vanderbilt, Beverley is the worst offensive player in the starting five for the Wolves and Morant isn’t big enough to trust matching him against Vanderbilt.
SG: Desmond Bane guarding D’Angelo Russell
D’Angelo Russell is not an athletic player that will give you trouble by threatening to blow by you and rise up above you. However, for as much as he lacks in athleticism he makes up for with his craft. Bane will likely try to use his strength to throw Russell off, but D’Lo’s length (6-foot-10 wingspan) could cause trouble for Bane, who has a wingspan of only 6-foot-4.
SF: Dillon Brooks guarding Anthony Edwards
Brooks is undoubtedly the best perimeter defender in the Grizzlies lineup and he theoretically has the size to match up with Anthony Edwards. Still, it is hard for anyone to check Edwards one-on-one. However, Brooks gives them the best shot at slowing him down.
PF: Jaren Jackson Jr. guarding Jarred Vanderbilt
Determining who Jackson Jr. and Adams will likely guard was the toughest decision to figure out. I went with Jackson Jr. guarding Vanderbilt because I think Taylor Jenkins might prefer to have Jackson Jr. be the roaming man that can help off of Vanderbilt and be available to protect the rim from the weakside.
C: Steven Adams guarding Karl-Anthony Towns
With JJJ on Vanderbilt, that leaves Adams for Towns. Towns likely will feast against Adams one-on-one, but with Jackson Jr. roaming around the paint, Towns will have a tougher time getting good looks off his drives that he has relied on so heavily down the stretch this season. If this is the matchup, Towns will need to let it fly from deep and pull Adams away from the basket.
On the flip side, Ja Morant is, of course, the biggest and brightest star on the Grizzlies that the Timberwolves will have to face, but Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane will both need to be contained to give the Wolves a chance in this one.
PG: D’Angelo Russell guarding Desmond Bane
I am not 100% sure if D’Angelo Russell will guard Bane or Brooks, but neither of these matchups allow for Russell to play his best version of defense - the “free safety” type of role that allows his to play off of guys - because both players can shoot and demand attention from their defender. I ended settling on Russell guarding Bane for two main reasons. First, Russell’s length can cause problems for Bane getting his shot off. Second, With Bane likely guarding Russell, it will minimize the amount of cross-matching the Wolves have to do when transitioning from offense to Defense.
It was tough to figure this one out, because in previous matchups Russell guarded the worst offensive starting wing on the Grizzlies (De’Anthony Melton, Kyle Anderson, and Ziaire Williams) - due to Brooks not playing in any of the four matchups this season.
SG: Patrick Beverley guarding Ja Morant
As was pointed out by Dan Favale on the Hardwood Knocks podcast from Thursday, no player in the league has spent more minutes guarding Ja Morant this season than Patrick Beverley. That likely doesn’t change for this season. However, Chris Finch won’t be afraid to put any of Jaden McDaniels, Anthony Edwards, or Jarred Vanderbilt on Morant if need be.
SF: Anthony Edwards guarding Dillon Brooks
After pinning Desmond Bane as Russell’s assignment, I went with Edwards squaring up with Dillon Brooks. Brooks provides more off the bounce game than Bane does and Edwards athleticism should be able to combat that. Also, Brooks is bigger and taller than Bane and Edwards is bigger and taller than Russell.
PF: Jarred Vanderbilt guarding Jaren Jackson Jr.
Vanderbilt spent most of his time playing against the Grizzlies guarding Jackson Jr. He’s the more active defender between him and Towns and is able to use his speed and athleticism to disrupt offensive possessions.
C: Karl-Anthony Towns guarding Steven Adams
KAT playing against Adams gives him to ability to play at the level more often as Adams is a more frequent, and impact, pick and roll player than JJJ is. Adam’s lack of shooting ability also allows Towns more freedom on defense to help off of him.
What to Watch For
Karl-Anthony Towns played very poorly against the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night. He was undisciplined on both offense and defense, which led to him picking up his 6th foul in only 24 minutes of action. He left the floor scoring just 11 points on the night.
The Clippers effectively game planned against Towns, but the Wolves were still able to pull out the game.
Winning a single game with your best player playing poorly is one thing. Winning a series with your best player playing poorly is all but impossible. Towns will need to show up each and every night for the Wolves to best the Grizz.
Luckily for Wolves fans, and everyone else who wagered on them in this one, the Grizzlies do not have the personnel to adequately scheme Karl-Anthony Towns out of this game. Adams and Jackson Jr. cannot guard him one-on-one. And they don’t have the big wings to throw at him like the Clippers and Jazz did. So, as long as Towns stays aggressive, he will be a much bigger factor in this series than he was on in the Play-In game.
Let’s just be clear:— Brendan Hedtke (@B_HedtkeNBA) April 13, 2022
The Grizzlies won’t do to KAT what the Clippers did tonight. He will show up.
Another thing I’m watching for in this game, and series overall, is Anthony Edwards and Ja Morant. Both players are the face of their teams and look to be the type of players that show up when the lights are the brightest. Edwards showed us all what he can do in big moments just 4 days ago. Morant has shined in big moments throughout his career.
There is a chance that this series could be decided by which player’s star shines brighter most often.
D’Angelo Russell also figures to be an important portion of this series. He had big games against the Grizzlies all season, averaging 31 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game on 66.7% shooting from 2 and 46.3% shooting from 3.
Russell played masterfully in those four meeting, getting whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. He also drew 24 total free throw attempts across those four matchups, far more than his typical average.
As much as the star players might matter in this game, I could see them being close to a wash at the end of the day. The biggest x-factors for both teams could very well be their respective benches.
The Grizzlies bench averaged the 6th most points in the league this season at 38.9 points per game. The Wolves bench was not far behind, sitting 8th in the league at 38.7 points per night. If you break those numbers down to a per 100 possession basis, the Wolves reserves outscore the Grizzlies reserves by 1.8 points.
The gist of these stats tells me that both teams bolster quality benches. The Grizzlies second unit is led by steady players like former Timberwolf Tyus Jones, De’Anthony Melton, Brandon Clark, Kyle Anderson, and Ziaire Williams.
On the Wolves side, their reserves consist of Malik Beasley, Taurean Prince, Naz Reid, Jaden McDaniels, Jordan McLaughlin, and Jaylen Nowell. The Wolves feel confident in their depth, but after playing 10-11 guys deep throughout the regular season, it will be interesting to see if/how Chris Finch cuts down on the rotation and what that may do to the bench production.
In the game against the Clippers, Finch decided to go with just 4 bench guys - McDaniels, Beasley, Reid, and Nowell - which left out two traditionally important players out. Taurean Prince did not play due to an injury, but Finch noted that he left Jordan McLaughlin out of the rotation because he felt Nowell’s scoring was more important to the team on that given night. Finch did note that he plans on McLaughlin being an integral part of this first round series, which likely means Jaylen Nowell is the “break glass in case of emergency” scoring punch rather than actually part of the rotation.
Regardless of who plays, the Wolves will need the bench to play at a high level to give themselves a chance.
Minnesota @Timberwolves Status Report in advance of Game 1 at Memphis:— Timberwolves PR (@Twolves_PR) April 15, 2022
Prince - Right Knee Inflammation
Taurean Prince, who missed the Play-In Game is the lone Timberwolf on Friday’s injury report. He is hit with the QUESTIONABLE tag due to inflammation in his right knee. Prince has been participating non-contact activities during practice this week.
The Grizzlies also have only one player listed on their injury report from Friday. Killian Tillie will not play due to his recovery from a procedure on his back.
If Prince is able to go, it looks like both teams will have their full rotations intact for the start of this series.
It all starts right now. Let’s see what this team is made of and get ready to be on the edge of your seats for a fantastic first round series. All of the best coverage will be here at Canis Hoopus.
Check out DraftKings Sportsbook, the official sportsbook partner of SB Nation.