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Game Preview #16: Wolves at Grizzlies

Anthony Edwards and Minnesota look to extend their road record to 5-1 in their last six games as they visit the Home of the Blues to take on Jaren Jackson Jr. and the Grizzlies in Memphis.

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

Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert and the potentially Anthony Edwards-less Minnesota Timberwolves are back on the road for a quick one-game trip as they go Walking in Memphis to take on a battered Grizzlies squad down seven of their rotation players that has yet to win at home (0-7).


Game Info

  • Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (11-4) at Memphis Grizzlies (3-12)
  • When: 5:00 PM CT
  • Where: FedEx Forum
  • TV: Bally Sports North (Michael Grady, Jim Petersen and Marney Gellner)
  • Radio: Wolves Radio App, KFAN FM 100.3
  • Line: Wolves -7, Total: 218 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)

Injury Report

Updated as of 1:45 PM CT on Sunday:

Anthony Edwards was ruled out with upper back spasms at 1:45 PM CT, then subsequently upgraded to questionable. Probably an error in the first tweet, but I wouldn’t expect Ant to play.

Minnesota

QUESTIONABLE:

  • Anthony Edwards (upper back spasms)

OUT:

  • Jaylen Clark (right achilles tendon rupture rehab)
  • Jaden McDaniels (Grade 1 lateral right ankle sprain)
  • Jordan McLaughlin (right knee MCL sprain)
  • Wendell Moore Jr. (G League assignment)

Memphis

OUT:

  • Steven Adams (right PCL surgery)
  • Brandon Clarke (left achilles tendon repair)
  • GG Jackson (two-way contract)
  • Luke Kennard (left knee bone bruise)
  • Jake LaRavia (left eye abrasion)
  • Ja Morant (suspension)
  • Marcus Smart (left foot sprain)
  • Xavier Tillman Sr. (left knee injury recovery)

What To Watch For

Minnesota Timberwolves v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

Recovery From “A Blessing In Disguise” Loss

That’s what three-time All-Star center Rudy Gobert said on Instagram to describe Friday night’s 124-111 NBA In-Season Tournament to the Sacramento Kings. While it stinks that the Wolves are all but eliminated from contention in the league’s quest for the inaugural NBA Cup, Gobert may have a point, too. The Wolves ripped off a seven-game win streak after their loss to the Atlanta Hawks back on October 30, and then won three straight after a scheduled loss to the Phoenix Suns on November 15.

Now, they face a Grizzlies team completely decimated by injuries before games against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Utah Jazz and Charlotte Hornets — three very winnable games. Outside of Ja Morant’s suspension, six additional Memphis rotation players will miss Sunday’s game. They are so injured that the NBA provided the team with not one, but two 10-day hardship contracts to sign players with so they could field a full team. Memphis used them to sign former Memphis Hustle guard Shaquille Harrison and old friend Jaylen Nowell, who was cut after spending training camp with the Kings.

Given that Memphis has scored 100 points or fewer in three straight games, Minnesota has no excuse not to win this game, even without Edwards and if All-Stars Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane are suiting up. Santi Aldama will be the team’s third option on offense, and while Aldama has certainly been playing some of the best basketball of his career in this stretch, that’s not a recipe for success in the NBA, especially when going against one of the league’s top defenses.

This will be another test of whether the Wolves can create their own energy in a game they are big favorites in, or start slow and have to crawl to the finish line like they did against the Golden State Warriors down Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, and against the New Orleans Pelicans down a handful of rotation players including Zion Williamson and CJ McCollum.

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

Attacking the Rim

The Timberwolves need to relentlessly challenge the teeth of this Grizzlies defense. Jaren Jackson Jr. is as foul prone of a player as there is in the NBA (his 3.5 fouls per game is 10th-most in the league), and getting him in foul trouble will be a key priority for a Wolves team looking to improve its rim shot frequency mark of 30.6% (20th in NBA). Edwards in the past has shown no fear in going right at Jackson Jr. in the paint, and now with Gobert and Towns on the floor at the same time, attacking the offensive glass to compromise an already weak defensive rebounder will be paramount to making this game as easy as it can be.

Memphis’s defensive rating actually improves from 115.7 with Jackson Jr. on the floor to 112.8 with him off the floor (per PBP Stats), but opponents’ 2-point field goal percentage rises from 50.9% with him on to 53.0% with him off, and their shots-at-the-rim frequency increases by 2.1% (per Cleaning the Glass). Minnesota wants to live in the paint and get Edwards, Towns and Gobert to the free throw line, and attacking Jackson Jr. so he either fouls or is in poor defensive rebounding position will be a storyline to watch.

Beyond JJJ, Grizzlies Head Coach Taylor Jenkins doesn’t have many options in the front-court. 6-foot-8 Bismack Biyombo has started at center, while the 6-foot-11 Aldama is more of a 3/4 than a 4/5. 6-foot-7 Kenneth Lofton Jr. would likely be the next man up there, but at 275 pounds, he would have significant trouble guarding in space.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

Running Desmond Bane Off the Line

The most important focus for the Wolves defense will unquestionably be Desmond Bane, who has led the Grizzlies in scoring in nine of their 15 games. Bane is averaging 24.3 points on 44.9/36.0/87.1 shooting splits, but has grown as a playmaker as well, improving his assists per game number to a career-high 5.1 with just 2.5 turnovers, too.

But Bane’s bread and butter is his long-range shooting, and he’s getting them up so far this season. The former TCU star is shooting 9.1 3-pointers a night, and while he’s making a career-low 36.0% of them, he is a threat to catch fire and score in bunches if the Timberwolves defense lacks discipline at the 3-point line. If Minnesota can get around the off-ball screens Memphis sets for him and run him off the line to force him to play below the 3-point line, they will limit his impact. Bane is 6-foot-5 but has a 6-foot-4 wingspan, so he may not fare well with challenging the Wolves’ length inside the arc and at the rim.

Memphis is 0-5 when Bane makes less than three 3-pointers. Turning him into a passer or mid-range jump shooter rather than a 3-point shooter will be the key on Sunday.