Timberwolves Losing Steam, Fall to Grizzlies on the Road

Memphis is hot. Minnesota is not.

Last night’s road game proved brutal for the Timberwolves as they found themselves unable to keep up with Mike Conley and his crew. Although the Wolves are ranked No. 4 in the league for scoring and are averaging 106.5 points per game, Memphis held them to just 92 points while taking the win with 109. Kevin Love led the team with lower-than-usual numbers of 16 points and seven rebounds. Rookie Gorgui Dieng delivered another strong performance with 11 points and 17 boards.

According to NBA.com, the Grizzlies are 8-0 since Dec. 25 when playing against teams who played the previous day. “We caught a good team on the second night of a back-to-back,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said.

(photo credit: arizonasports.com)

(photo credit: arizonasports.com)

After playing several games in which they scored over 30 points in the first quarter, the Timberwolves tallied just 15 against Memphis. Both teams struggled a bit out of the gatesMemphis made just four of its first 15 shotsbut the Grizzlies soon found their groove. The first basket didn’t come until the 9:55 mark, but it came at the hands of the Grizzlies, and they never looked back. Conley had 23 points and six assists, and Marc Gasol added 14 points and 12 rebounds.

“We didn’t want to give them too much leeway,” Conley said. “We’ve been in the same shoes. You’re coming in off a tough game, and you kind of walk through the first part of the game.  We just wanted to jump out there as early as we could, set the tempo and try to get ahead of them.”

Minnesota seemed disoriented across the board, no one player having a fantastic game. Love shot just 6-of-18 from the field, and the team as a whole shot 38 percent. The Grizzlies had complete control of the game, driving the pace and offense. At halftime, they led the Wolves 57-39.

The Timberwolves found a bit of a spark in the third, going on a 15-4 run to close the quarter and lessen the deficit. They just couldn’t keep up with their shooting, though, and Memphis drove the win home.

“They played physical,” Love said. “When you play a team like that on a back-to-back, especially this late in the season, especially without Pek and Ronny and some depth, it’s tough.”

Forwards Corey Brewer and Dante Cunningham had the best luck on the floor percentage-wise, adding 15 and nine points, respectively. It wasn’t enough, though.

Monday night’s loss pushes the Wolves seven games behind Dallas and Phoenix. At this point, it seems safe to say that finding the postseason is like a needle in a haystack for the Wolves… it’s not mathematically impossible, but losing these last two games seemed to seal Minnesota’s fate. Finishing the regular season strong is now the team’s main focus. “We just have to be competitive. That’s the biggest key right now — get through the end of the season and play each game competitively,” forward Chase Budinger said. “That’s how you have to look at it.”

Up next for the Wolves is a home game Wednesday, when they welcome Atlanta.  The Hawks are clinging to a No. 8 playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and the contest promises to be a close one. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

Minnesota Timberwolves 86, Memphis Grizzlies 99

Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Game Summary:

The Memphis Grizzlies blew out the Minnesota Timberwolves in the fourth quarter to sweep the season series between the two squads and to extend the Grizzlies’ win streak over the Pups to 11. Leading the way was Marc Gasol, who helped overcome a big performance on the other end from close friend and fellow Spaniard Ricky Rubio.

Gasol, who has been playing through injury after suffering a torn abdominal muscle just a couple weeks ago, took advantage of the short-handed Wolves who were missing big man Nikola Pekovic to a sprained ankle. The 7-foot-1 center has played a big part in what has become an impressive Memphis season this year.

With Minnesota taking a 67-65 lead into the final period of play, the Grizzlies ignited to blow out the Pups 34-19 in the fourth quarter and Memphis improved to 49-24 on the season. The frontcourt options for Memphis were seemingly endless for a team that had enough time covering for Pekovic’s 290-pound body in the paint.

Memphis survived a near triple-double from Tricky Ricky as he fell one assists shy of his second career triple-double. The Grizz fought back with 50% field goal shooting as a team and 60% marksmanship from beyond the arc. Backup forward Darrell Arthur added 14 points (6-9 FG) off of the bench to spark a strong second unit bunch and point guard Mike Conley controlled the pace in the final period to help extend the Grizzlies’ dominance over the Timberwolves.

Keys of the Game:

  • Steals - The Lionel Hollins-led group did an excellent job of getting hands in the passing lanes and really interfered with the Wolves ball movement in the fourth quarter especially. Out-stealing Minnesota 9-3, six different Memphis players recorded at least one steal in an impressive show of defense.
  • Turnovers - Whenever you give the other team extra opportunities to score, you are shooting yourself in the foot and that is exactly what Minnesota did as they committed 16 turnovers to only 9 by the Grizzlies. Memphis does an excellent job of lateral ball movement in the half court offense and displayed excellent patience by working the shot clock to find the open man on the offensive end.
  • Shooting - The Grizzlies were precise in their shot looks as they nailed 6 of their 10 attempts from long-range and 37 of 73 looks from the field.

Three Stars of the Game:

  1. Marc Gasol - The loss of Pekovic from Minnesota’s frontcourt proved to be the dagger in this game as the Pups had a very difficult time containing Gasol with the combo of Greg Stiemsma and Chris Johnson. Well regarded as one of the top passing big men in the NBA, Gasol tallied 6 assists while also converting on 8 of his 12 field goal attempts as he notched 21 points and 8 rebounds. While many feared he may be lost for the season following his recent re-injury of his abdomen, Gasol has come on strong over the past few games and continues to give his squad momentum as they eye a playoff run in the following weeks.
  2. Ricky Rubio - Ricky truly played another fantastic game despite little support from his teammates in the final period, and unfortunately fell only 1 assist shy of notching his second career triple-double. In 40 minutes, Rubio finished with the line of 23 points (6-12 FG), 10 rebounds and 9 assists. Ricky provided more scoring than he is used to and carried the team offensively throughout much of the game.
  3. Mike Conley - Memphis’ point guard really set the tone for the Grizzlies offense in the final period of play and did an excellent job of pushing the ball up the floor for transition buckets. The former Ohio State standout finished with the line of 19 points (8-15 FG, 3-3 3Pt) and 4 assists in 33 minutes.

Minnesota Timberwolves 77 – Memphis Grizzlies 92

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Danny Johnston

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Danny Johnston

Game Summary:

Less than 24 hours afer a nice win on their home floor, the Timberwolves were back on the court in Memphis to take on the Grizzlies.  Let’s get right to it; the Wolves opened up with the same lineup from Sunday night (!!) – Rubio, Ridnour, Kirilenko, Williams, and Pekovic.  The Grizzlies opened up with Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Tayshaun Prince, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol.

The Pups jumped out to an early 11-4 lead, with the entire starting lineup contributing a little bit of something to the advantage.  That forced an early timeout from Lionel Hollins.  However, that advantage slowly but surely diminished over the rest of the quarter, as the Grizzlies ended the quarter on a 9-0 run and held a 22-20 advantage at the end of the 1st quarter.

While low scoring, the 2nd quarter was relatively enjoyable.  Earlier in the quarter, Alexey Shved looked to be heating up a bit hitting his first two jumpers.  Unfortunately that run was short lived and he seemed to disappear as the minutes wore on.  I think Alexey could use a night off.  That can’t happen right now given the roster, but it probably wouldn’t hurt.  The bad version of JJ Barea came to play in Memphis.  At halftime, Barea was 1-7 from the field

The Grizzlies big men dominated the first half with Prince, Randolph, and Gasol all having very nice quarters.  Ed Davis came in to grab 5 rebounds and 2 blocks as well.  Memphis closed the quarter with a fury, as a Mike Conley jumper was sandwiched between a few defensive highlights from Prince.  At the half, the Grizzlies held a 45-39 lead.  Here are a few halftime thoughts through my Wolves lens:

  • After a good shooting night Sunday, the Wolves were back to 36% for the first half
  • JJ and Ricky were a combined 2-12 from the field in the half – that isn’t going to get it done
  • Very few FT’s in the half, as the Wolves were 3-3 and the Grizzlies were 4-6

Someone forgot to tell the Pups that the 3rd quarter started as the Grizzlies jumped out to a 9-0 run to build a double digit lead.  The Marc Gasol show continued as he made Pekovic look inferior.  The entire Wolves squad were ice cold in the first half and even worse in the 3rd quarter.  Halfway through the quarter, the Grizzlies outscored the Wolves 18-4 and held a 20 point lead, 63-43.

With a 70-47 lead in the 3rd quarter, Wolves fans around the world had heart problems.  Ricky Rubio collided knees with Jerryd Bayless and limped off to the court.  As TV coverage returned to the game, Rubio was on the bench.  Minutes later, the Grizzlies TV crew noted that he was on his way to the locker room.  Words cannot describe the level of frustration this season has become.

At the end of the 3rd quarter, the Grizzlies held a 74-53 lead. It was ugly while Rubio was in there, the game became a sideshow afterward, with the Grizzlies pouring it on with highlight reel dunks and uncontested three pointers.  The only good news to come out of this entire portion of the game was that the Wolves sideline reported that Rubio simply tweaked his groin and he was in the back trying to stretch it out.  He should be good to go later in the week when the Wolves return to action.

While the Pups reserves made a run in the 4th quarter, it was far too little, too late.  Minnesota outscored the Grizzlies 24-18 in the final frame, but it did little to make the final score look much better.  I’ll spare you the details.  This might help paint a picture: Alexey Shved was the Wolves leading scorer in the game with 12 points.

Keys of the Game

  • Shooting– Once again, the Wolves shoot a low percentage (34%) and it completely deflates your hopes of a comeback.  At the same time, they took 24 (?!?!) three point attempts.  This roster is horrific at 3PT shooting and yet they continue to hoist them up.
  • Frontline play – The Grizzlies starting frontline ate up the Wolves tonight.  Prince and Randolph both had double doubles and Marc Gasol looked better than both of them.  None of the Wolves frontline starters scored in double digits and Williams “led” the three Pups with 6 rebounds.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Mike Conley – Dominated the PG matchup tonight against Rubio with 20 points, including 8-14 from the field and 3-6 from long range.  He also added 6 assists and 2 steals, with only 1 turnover.
  2. Marc Gasol – Also dominated his Wolves counterpart.  There has been a good amount of chatter on Pekovic’s forthcoming free agency online.  Tonight’s game didn’t help his cause.
  3. Tayshaun Prince – 12 points, 14 rebounds, and 4 assists for the Grizzlies starting SF.  Prince shut down Kirilenko and made a few, key defensive plays in the game to halt small runs by the Wolves.

Preview – Minnesota Timberwolves at Memphis Grizzlies 3-18-13

wolves grizz previewSetting the stage:

After a nice win at the Target Center on St. Patrick’s Day, the Timberwolves reward was to get on a plane and head to Memphis for the second of a back-to-back against the Grizzlies.  The two teams have only played once thus far this season, back on 2/11, where the Grizzlies dominated the Wolves and won by a final score of 105-88.

Memphis has had the Wolves number for some time now, winning the last ten meetings between the two teams.  The Grizzlies will also be looking to win their eighth straight on their home court, which would also snap a two game losing streak that they are on.  They are coming off of a loss in Utah on Saturday night, which puts them in a dead heat with the Nuggets for the 4th seed in the Western Conference.

Minnesota received a boost on Sunday with the return of Andrei Kirilenko and Nikola Pekovic to the starting lineup.  While Pekovic looked solid throughout the game against the Hornets, it looked like Kirilenko was a little rusty.  However, he came up with the key defensive plays at the end of the game to help seal the win for the team.  While he isn’t expected to be ready to play tonight, there are rumblings that Chase Budinger’s return is near as well.

Player to watch:

Zach Randolph – Since returning to the lineup last week, Randolph has been on a tear, averaging 17.3 ppg and 11.3 rpg.  He’ll be facing a vastly improved Derrick Williams and it will be interesting to see what the crafty lefthander can do against an un-caged lion.

Match-up to watch:

Nikola Pekovic vs. Marc Gasol.  Pekovic looked good in his return on Sunday night but did not have a great defensive game against Robin Lopez and Anthony Davis.  He will need to step it up tonight when he faces an underrated center in Marc Gasol.  In the meeting in February, Gasol put up 9 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists.  At the same time, he held Pekovic to only 8 points and 6 rebounds in 30 minutes of action.

Predictions:

Tonight’s game includes a tough travel itinerary and a very tough team/match-up for the Wolves.

Final score prediction: Timberwolves 82, Grizzlies 96

Three stars of the game predictions:

  1. Marc Gasol
  2. Zach Randolph
  3. Ricky Rubio

Let’s go Wolves!

Minnesota Timberwolves 88, Memphis Grizzlies 105

Recently acquired SF Tayshaun Prince converted on all 8 of his field goal attempts and the Memphis Grizzlies extended the Minnesota Timberwolves road losing streak to 8 games (AP Photo/Lance Murphey)

Recently acquired SF Tayshaun Prince converted on all 8 of his field goal attempts and the Memphis Grizzlies extended the Minnesota Timberwolves road losing streak to 8 games (AP Photo/Lance Murphey)

It looks like Memphis may end up just fine without Rudy Gay. Taking on the Minnesota Timberwolves in the FedExForum in Memphis, TN, the new-look Grizzlies showed just how dominant they can be with their new pieces acquired in the Rudy Gay blockbuster trade. Recently acquired forwards Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye combined to score 34 points on a ridiculous 14-17 shooting and the Grizzlies went on to blow out the Timberpups 105-88, extending Minnesota’s road losing streak to 8 games.

The Wolves, who stood at 16-15 on January 8 of this year, are now an abysmal 18-30 including a horrific 6-18 on the road. Injuries have depleted Minnesota’s roster and young, high-upside players Derrick Williams and Alexey Shved have been unable to step up in order to keep this team afloat.

JJ Barea was a late scratch for Minnesota with a left foot sprain, and the Timberwolves had a very tough time spacing the floor and creating offense against the defensive-minded Grizzlies.

To add to the Pups’ injury woes, Andrei Kirilenko missed his third consecutive game due to a strained right quadriceps muscle. In his place, Mickael Gelabale got the start at small forward but had a very difficult time defending the long and athletic Prince, who hit all of his 8 field goal attempts in 23 minutes on the court. The other former Detroit Piston, Austin Daye, seems to enjoy his new playoff-destined squad and added 16 points and 4 rebounds off the bench.

Minnesota led the Grizz 21-20 after the first period, but problems with turnovers and transition defense allowed Memphis to hold a 47-37 lead at the half. Memphis, led by head coach Lionel Hollins, did a tremendous job of pressuring the Pups on the perimeter and were able to record 12 steals as a team. More often than not these steals led to fast-breaks for the quick and athletic Grizzlies, and Memphis went on to outscore the Pups on the fast break 20-4. It is awfully difficult to stop Mike Conley and Tony Allen once they are running in transition, and Memphis did a much better job than the Pups of spacing the floor and creating high-percentage  scoring opportunities.

Things only got worse for Minnesota following the break, and the Pups lack of playmakers inhibited their ability to make a legitimate run to get back into the game. With Barea and AK-47 sidelined due to injury, the Wolves essentially lacked even a single player who could create their own shot. Ricky Rubio stepped up and provided 17 points on 6-11 shooting, but tallied only 4 assists as the Memphis defense did a very good job of pouring the help defense on Minnesota’s greatest threat. Shved, who is in the midst of a miserable shooting slump, scored 10 points on 50% shooting and even notched 9 assists, all the while committing 5 turnovers in 31 minutes played.

Apparently Rick Adelman does not think much of new fan-favorite Chris Johnson, who did not play until the fourth-quarter when the game was far of hand. Johnson, who has shot 72% for the Wolves and who owns an impressive 24.83 PER seems to be incapable of proving himself to the veteran head coach. While the sample size is small and the statistics may be skewed in Johnson’s favor, I do not understand the lack of minutes as he has played extremely well in every single opportunity he has been given. At least let him fail before keeping him on the bench for eternity.

Derrick Williams finished with a line of 9 points 0n 4-11 shooting (0-3 3PT), 6 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 assist and 1 turnover in 25 minutes on the floor. D-Will started at power forward opposite of the much bigger and stronger Zach Randolph, who dominated the former Arizona star on the low block on his way to 16 points and 8 rebounds. While Derrick is technically a power forward, the ways he has been primarily looking to score has been on midrange to three-point jump-shots, and I have noticed a few troubling trends with his shot that may be the leading cause for his poor shooting percentages of late. To begin, when bringing himself to shoot, he has too narrow of a base and a poor center of gravity which allows him to sway and fade on anything besides spotted-up jumpers. Lately, his shoulders have not consistently been square to the basket which has contributed to his lateral accuracy issues. Often times his misses result in misses on either side of the rim, instead of misses that are either too long or too short like K-Love’s. Another troubling trend has been D-Will’s incapacity for penetrating the lane and getting to the free throw lane. Even if nothing is there, the Wolves need more players to get past the opponent’s perimeter defense in order to create opportunities for other Wolves on the perimeter, and too often Derrick receives a pass and stands in place with the ball like a frightened deer in headlights.

Keys of the Game

  • Defense - Memphis recorded 12 steals and Minnesota turned the ball over 19 times which led to easy transition buckets for the home team. The Grizzlies did a great job on the perimeter, namely shooting guard Tony Allen, and disrupted the Wolves system of dribble-exchange in the half-court. This effectively slowed down the Wolves ball movement on offense and led to many more drained shot clocks and contested shots. In the interior Memphis center Marc Gasol and power forward Randolph combined for 17 rebounds and 5 steals while holding Minnesota center Nikola Pekovic to just 8 points in 30 minutes.
  • Ball Movement - Inside and out, the Grizzlies worked to find the open man and continuously found teammates open on backdoor cuts with Minnesota defenders sleeping. With arguably the best passing big man in the game in Gasol on the low block, Memphis dissected the Pups half-court defense and allowed the Grizzlies’ center to record 8 of the team’s 30 assists.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. Tayshaun Prince - In his best game as a Grizzly, Prince reminded everyone why it may not be the end of the world for Memphis with Rudy Gay on the wing. The truth is that Gay is receiving max contract dollars and is currently playing below league average in terms of efficiency, and I tip my cap to John Hollinger and the boys of the Memphis brass for ridding the team of a detrimental contract. 
  2. Marc Gasol - Rubio’s close friend and fellow Spanish national teammate nearly had a triple-double of 9 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists while playing spectacular defense on a great player in Nikola Pekovic. Gasol uses his size, length, and smarts in unison and is worth every dollar that he is being paid.
  3. Mike Conley - Conley logged the most minutes of any Grizzly (36) and did not turn the ball over once while adding 16 points and 8 assists. One of the top perimeter defenders in the NBA, Conley and and Tony Allen completely disrupted the Timberwolves backcourt.