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Game Preview #41: Wolves vs. Grizzlies

Anthony Edwards and the Timberwolves will welcome Jaren Jackson Jr. and an injury-depleted Memphis squad to Target Center on TNT.

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

Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert and the Minnesota Timberwolves will turn right around for another contest on Thursday night as they hit the kick off a three-game homestand by welcoming Jaren Jackson Jr., GG Jackson and the Memphis Grizzlies back to Target Center in a game that will undoubtedly have a different feel than Wolves/Grizz battles of recent years.

Memphis will not only be missing Ja Morant, but also key sidekicks Desmond Bane, Marcus Smart, Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke, among others.

The Wolves are 2-0 against the Grizzlies (both in Memphis) in 2023-24, with wins of 24 points and 22 points — two of their four widest margins of victory this season.


Game Info

  • Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (29-11) vs Memphis Grizzlies (15-25)
  • When: Thursday, January 18 at 9:00 PM CT
  • Where: Target Center — Minneapolis, MN
  • TV: TNT (Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Jared Greenberg)
  • Radio: Wolves Radio App, KFAN FM 100.3
  • Line: Wolves -12.5, Total: 215 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)

Injury Report

Updated as of Thursday 1/17 at 1:30 PM CT:

Minnesota

OUT:

  • Jaylen Clark (right achilles tendon rupture rehab)
  • Leonard Miller (G League assignment)
  • Josh Minott (G League assignment)

Memphis

OUT

  • Steven Adams (right PCL surgery)
  • Desmond Bane (left ankle sprain)
  • Brandon Clarke (left achilles tendon repair)
  • Jake LaRavia (left ankle sprain)
  • Ja Morant (right shoulder labral repair)
  • Derrick Rose (left hamstring strain)
  • Marcus Smart (right ring finger central slip tear)

What To Watch For

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

Containing Jaren Jackson Jr.

Jackson Jr. in the past wasn’t near the top of the Wolves’ defensive scouting report, as Morant and Bane shouldered most of the Grizzlies’ scoring responsibilities. But with those two now out for the rest of the season and next couple months, respectively, JJJ will have to give it his best go as the team’s No. 1 scoring option.

To his credit, he’s increased his scoring output in the last five games (24.4 PPG) compared to his season average (21.2 PPG). But in doing so, his efficiency has dipped from 44.7% on the season to 42.4% over his last five. A big reason why is that Jackson Jr. is shooting significantly more 3s (8.8 per game) in that stretch than he is for the 2023-24 campaign (5.4). As a result, we may see Towns draw the JJJ matchup instead of Gobert, since the Frenchman is the team’s most valuable defensive rebounder. Jackson Jr. is a combined 4/22 from 3 (18.1%) and 10/40 on all field goal attempts (25%) in his last two games, so Towns will need to ensure that continues, while Gobert can finish defensive possessions with rebounds.

Naz Reid is also likely to spend time guarding Jackson Jr., as JJJ’s normal rotation pattern includes being on the floor at the beginning and end of every quarter, and Reid usually sees action bridging between the end of the first and beginning of the second quarter and late in the third quarter.

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

Take Care of the Ball

Limiting turnovers very well be No. 2 on the Wolves’ gameplan behind limiting the damage that Jackson Jr. is able to do offensively. Memphis’s half-court offense has been horrendous in the two games since Bane went down (85.7 vs GSW, 16th percentile | 80.0 vs NYK, eighth percentile), but they have stayed true to the identity that has fueled their organizational rebirth: forcing turnovers and scoring in transition.

They forced the New York Knicks to give it up on 23.5% of their trips (99th percentile) and the Golden State Warriors to turn it over on 19.2% of their possessions (92nd percentile), which resulted in a season-high 30 points off turnovers. Memphis has scored 53 points off turnovers in their last two games, most in the NBA.

It will be imperative for the Timberwolves to limit their mistakes. Minnesota’s 15.4% turnover rate ranks third-worst in the NBA this season, while their 17.4 points per game allowed off giveaways ranks 21st. Even without Morant — arguably the top transition player in the league — Memphis still has dangerous transition threats in Jacob Gilyard, Vince Williams Jr., and Luke Kennard. Forcing an inexperienced squad with limited depth that lacks chemistry (who can blame them with how many different lineup combinations they’ve used this season?) to instead take the ball out of the net and execute in the half-court against the league’s top defensive unit (92.1 defensive rating in the HC) will be key.