The Minnesota Timberwolves may have some new faces in, but Friday night’s 128-107 loss at the Memphis Grizzlies came down to the same issue that has plagued their worst stretches this season: sloppiness.
The Wolves, who entered the night ranked third-to-last in both turnovers per game and turnover percentage per NBA.com, coughed it up 17 times, leading to 18 Grizzlies points in Minnesota’s eighth-straight loss in Memphis. The Wolves’ lack of discipline with the ball was likely a key reason for the acquisition of Mike Conley, who played his first game for the Wolves after being traded to Minnesota in a deal that sent D’Angelo Russell to the Lakers. But Conley was a culprit in the issue, committing three of the Wolves’ giveaways.
It was an up-and-down night in general for Conley in his debut. He started out strong with two assists in the first 90 seconds and forced four Memphis turnovers between steals and charges drawn in the first half. It was clear, though, that both Conley and the incumbent Wolves were still learning to play together (Nickeil Alexander-Walker, the other player Minnesota got in the deal, did not play until garbage time). Conley finished with nine points and three assists.
Of course it’s the patented off-hand floater for Mike Conley’s first bucket as a Wolf pic.twitter.com/xktj6dvFr6— Aidan Berg (@AidanBerg_) February 11, 2023
He didn’t give the ball away at all in the second half, though, and he was hardly the only perpetrator. Taurean Prince gave the ball away four times, and Anthony Edwards turned it over on three occasions, part of an off-night in which Edwards scored 17 points on 19 shots.
Carelessness was an issue on the other end, as well. The Wolves are still a handsy team and sent the Grizzlies to the line for 27 free throws, leading to 20 points. Minnesota, on the other hand, only got to the charity stripe 12 times, making 10 attempts. They also lost their bearings on off-ball actions too often, the primary reason for Memphis’ 72 points in the paint and 40% mark from three.
The hype for the new additions overshadowed the excitement to see Jaden McDaniels defend Ja Morant, but the interest around the matchup was still palpable. McDaniels has limited more than a few opposing stars to poor showings this season, but Morant got the better of him on this night.
Even for McDaniels, Morant was too quick coming over ball screens. Combine that with the ample space Rudy Gobert afforded Morant in drop coverage, and the second-time All-Star starting guard got plenty of easy looks throughout the night. Gobert got benched at one point in the third quarter because of it, and his issues corralling Morant in drop will have to be addressed if these teams see each other again in the postseason. Morant finished with 32 points on 23 field goal attempts and added nine assists.
Morant wasn’t the only player who gave Gobert fits, either. Jaren Jackson Jr., Santi Aldama and noted Wolves killer Brandon Clarke drove at Gobert repeatedly and finished strong as though they didn’t even notice there was a 7-footer at the basket. Aldama and Clarke combined for 32 points on 12-of-15 shooting off the bench.
Minnesota stuck in striking position for a fair amount of the night, though, because it shot well when it wasn’t throwing the ball away. The Wolves went 15-of-37 from downtown for a 40.5% mark on the night. Five players — McDaniels, Prince, Kyle Anderson, Naz Reid and Jaylen Nowell — made multiple threes while shooting at least 40% from deep.
Speaking of Nowell, he was another silver lining from the night. After going off for a career-high 30 on Wednesday in Utah, Nowell led the team with 21 points and made nine of 16 shots Friday.
On the whole, though, the Timberwolves looked like a team that could use a few days off to practice together and work out some of these issues. They get exactly that before they finish their four-game road trip in Dallas Monday. They host the Wizards Thursday in their final game before the All-Star Break.