Marching into the Target Center on Tuesday night, the Memphis Grizzlies looked to get a hold on the fourth seed in the Western Conference standings in their hopes for home court advantage for the first round of the upcoming NBA playoffs. Facing a Timberwolves team resembling little to the team they faced early on in the season, Memphis held off a strong Timberpups effort led by veteran guard JJ Barea and went on to win in Minnesota by a score of 91-84. Barea played like a man with a purpose and attempted to break the April curse and get a win for his team nearly by himself, but ultimately coming up short.
Facing one of the top NBA perimeter defenders in Mike Conley, Barea scored 28 points (1 point shy of his career high) and nailed 5 of his 9 three-point attempts, looking very much like the player who played an integral role in winning the NBA Finals with Dallas last season. The sparkplug PG also tallied 8 assists and pulled down 5 rebounds in 39 minutes, and showed a lot of heart that has been missing from the injury plagued team. Seeing time behind Barea was Malcolm Lee, who was largely ineffective in his 9 minutes of play, making just 1 of his five shot attempts while failing to record an assist.
With news coming out that starting C Nikola Pekovic will undoubtedly have offseason surgery in order to remove bone spurs from his ankle, the Montenegrin was able to provide 37 minutes of play and went on to finish with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Although Pek has not been the same player since having bone spurs in his ankle, he still manages to provide productive minutes and continues his Most Improved Player campaign. He matched up against Grizzlies All-Star C Marc Gasol, who is also currently also playing through injury as he suffers from a bone bruise on his knee. Pek was able to physically dominate the 7’1”, 265 pound Gasol on several possessions and demonstrated that he very well may be the strongest player in the NBA. As this season comes to a close, the future looks very bright for the Timberwolves international draft pick, and he will have the opportunity to have the entire next season as the team’s starting C. Backing up Pek was Brad Miller, who made a few nice passes but contributed little else in his 12 minutes on the court. With Miller retiring at season’s end, the only other Cs under contract will be Nikola Pekovic and Darko Milicic. However, it has become public knowledge that Darko will likely not be apart of the team next season, and whether his departure is through a buyout, trade, or by use of the amnesty clause is still unknown.
Anthony Randolph received another start at PF, but failed to display any signs that he will be with the team next year. After having two nice 20 point performances last week, AR-15 scored only 4 points on 1-8 shooting and was exploited on defense by bigs Zach Randolph and Marreese Speights. When faced with bigger and stronger opponents, Randolph has turned into a liability on the defensive end due to his skinny body and poor defensive instincts. He simply cannot compete with players on the low block that are 40 pounds bigger than him, and if he is to take the next step in his game, he is going to desperately need to add mass.
Minnesota’s abysmal wing production this season was on full display last night as starters Wes Johnson and Martell Webster scored a combined 6 points on 1-7 shooting. The Pups simply need players on the wing that can create their own shot, while providing decent wing defense.
Michael Beasley provides one of those needs, although inconsistently, and scored 7 points on 2-5 shooting in 18 minutes. Super Cool Beas has the ability to score in bunches and is a tremendous athlete for the SF position, but he has still not been able to find his niche in the NBA and possesses an undefined skill set as a player in the NBA. Beasley needs to figure out what kind of a player he is and focus on tweaking and improving the various areas of his game in order to be best suited to play the wing. This season Beas has demonstrated that he is an incredibly capable long-range shooter (40% from three) and has on countless occasions displayed that he can get to the rim on some of the best defenders in the NBA. However, he has been inconsistent in his offensive approaches and continually settles for long two point shots instead of flowing his offense through dribble-drives and off-ball cuts. At times he slows down the offense and is not always looking to get his teammates involved. Going forward, the Kansas State product must focus on driving to the rim and finding open teammates when encountered with double teams. Also, he needs to focus on taking the majority of his shots from 15 feet and in and taking the majority of his longer looks when set up with open shots. Finally, he needs to find it within himself to give consistent effort on the defensive end because too often he is slow on his defensive rotations and is lazy when defending on-ball. With all of this considered, Mike is still only an immature 23 year old and still has the potential to be a superstar in the NBA. However, it is on Beasley to decide just how good he wants to be.
Anthony Tolliver provided solid defense off the bench on Z-Bo and recorded 7 points and 7 rebounds in 27 minutes. Tolliver has given some of the most consistent effort all season for the Pups and is truly an unselfish and team-oriented player, who will surely be brought back for next season. Wayne Ellington was healthy last night and finished with 8 points and 7 rebounds in 27 minutes. Finally, the biggest disappointment of the night came from Derrick Williams, who has lost his swagger and confidence that he had for much of the season, going on to record just 2 points and 2 rebounds in this one.
This game was much closer than anticipated and the Pups showed that they still have some fight left in them. The April drought continues with little hope that this will be the year that it is broken, but with news that Kevin Love may be ready to go on Sunday, we may finally witness a win in April.
- Key Player: Rudy Gay put on a clinic for all to witness on his way to 28 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists. Try not to remember that Minnesota passed up on Gay when eventually ending up with Randy Foye on draft day of the 2006 NBA Draft.
- Key Stat: Memphis recorded 11 steals compared to only 6 for the Pups, and the differential in points off turnovers really killed the Pups in this contest.
Photo Credits: Jim Mone – Associated Press