The Minnesota Timberwolves are fresh of a miserable six-game homestand in which they went 1-5 with their lone win coming against one of the NBA's worst teams: the New Orleans Hornets.
Unfortunately the Wolves aren't facing another terrible opponent tonight. The Memphis Grizzlies are currently the 5th seed in the Western Conference at 31-18 are are coming off a big win on Friday night over the Golden State Warriors (99-93).
The Grizzlies have certainly gone through a transformation this past month. Memphis swung a deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers in late January that sent Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington, Josh Selby and a future first round pick to the Cavaliers for Jon Leuer. The deal shed roughly $6million in payroll to get under the luxury tax threshold.
It was initially thought that the deal was so Memphis could keep their core of Conley, Gay, Z-Bo & Gasol together for at least another season.
That wasn't the case though. Roughly a week later, the Grizzlies pulled the trigger on another deal--a three-team, six-player trade involving the Toronto Raptors and the Detroit Pistons. The swap sent Rudy Gay and Hamed Haddadi from Memphis to Toronto, Ed Davis from Toronto to Memphis, Jose Calderon from Toronto to Detroit, Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye from Detroit to Memphis.
I don't think there's anyone that would argue the Grizzlies got A LOT worse with this trade. I would've understood had they just done the second trade, but to trade two of your key bench players and send the other team a 1st rounder is...insane.
In the Grizzlies' first four games without Gay, they went 1-3, which led up to Friday's game vs. the Warriors in which they got a much-needed W.
The Grizzlies are still a very good team that will likely make it through to the second round of the playoffs, but with this current crop of players they're certainly not a contender. They weren't with Rudy Gay though, either. It'll be very interesting to see whose on the roster next season. I'm guessing Randolph will be the next to go.
The Grizzlies recent struggles post-trade are minuscule when compared to the Wolves' play the past month. A month ago, the Wolves were 'in the thick of things' for the 8th seed in the Wester Conference. A month later, the Wolves season is ultimately lost as they'll be lottery-bound once again this year. The TWolves are 2-14 in their last six games, which includes seven straight losses on the road.
They'll be facing a Grizzlies franchise that has found plenty of success these past few seasons when matched up with the Wolves. Memphis has won eight-straight over the Wolves and six-straight at the FedEx Forum (in Memphis). The Wolves will have their opportunities to halt that 8-game losing skid to Memphis as this is the first of three meetings this season.
The Grizzlies are one of two teams the Wolves have yet to face this season. The other being the Detroit Pistons (who they'll first see on 3/26).
The Wolves play on without a number of key players. Both Kevin Love (hand) and Chase Budinger (knee) are inching closer to their returns. It's likely they're both back in (roughly) another month. Brandon Roy (knees) might return at some point, but the likelihood of that hoping is about the same as the likelihood the Wolves make the playoffs this season. Malcolm Lee (knee/hip) underwent season-ending surgery in January. Andrei Kirilenko (quad) has missed the last two games and didn't travel with the team (meaning he won't play in Memphis tonight or in Cleveland on Monday). Adelman says it's unlikely he returns before the All-Star break.
The Grizzlies are currently without their swingman off the bench: Quincy Pondexter. He's currently dealing with a knee injury, but he did participate in a full-contact practice on Saturday. He's listed as day-to-day, but it sounds likely he'll be available for this one.
Let's take a look at tonight's probable starting lineups...
There are two matchups I'm very excited for and one that is very concerning...
Ricky Rubio vs. Mike Conley
These are two very good young point guards. They have a similar defensive intensity on the perimeter, but their offensive games are quite different. With Gay gone everyone is being asked to do more offensively. Conley is a 13ppg scorer, while averaging just 5.9 assists. Ricky Rubio is certainly not known as an explosive scorer, instead it's his playmaking that makes him so valuable. It'l be an interesting matchup.
Nikola Pekovic vs. Marc Gasol
Marc Gasol is one of the NBA's premier big men. At 7'1" he's a force on both ends of the floor and as you tell by those above stats, he's a very complete player. If you look at those stats, their almost identical to Andrei Kirilenko's (though AK averages less rebounds). For your center to have those kinds of stats--he's a very special player. We've got a special center of our own. Nikola Pekovic is a better scorer (or maybe he's simply asked to do more) and rebounder, while lacking somewhat on the defensive end (at least what shows up in the box scores nightly). Gasol's height is a little concerning--especially since Pek has struggled to finish attempts at the rim recently.
Derrick Williams vs. Zach Randolph
Derrick Williams did a 'decent' job on Carmelo Anthony, but DWill's defensive game is most certainly still a 'work in progress'. Williams has had some good defensive games against some decent big men this season--a matchup with David West and the Pacers early in the season is the most notable. Tonight he'll be matched up against one of the NBA's premier power forwards. Z-Bo is a nightly double-double and because of his strength, rebounding and mid-range game--he's a very talented offensive player. He's not a great defender, I'd say just above average. If he has one of his big 25-15 nights, it's more than likely the Grizz are victorious in this one.
That's all for now, tipoff for this one is an early 5pmCT tip. Enjoy the game, thanks for reading HOWL and GO WOLVES!
Cody D. Anderson
A Wolves fan bringing you Gameday Recaps all season long!