The Minnesota Timberwolves have made tremendous leaps this year as they try to separate themselves from their miserable past. With exceptional play from the roster, followed by winning the majority of the “winnable” games (curse you, Brandon Ingram), it’s a bit shocking to see them a game below .500. Still, Minnesota has won four of its last five, albeit against some of the league’s more mediocre teams. But regardless of their recent stretch of wins, the Wolves still need to continue to exhibit the play of a playoff-caliber team.
However, Minnesota will have their work cut out for them in a Thursday night matchup against the scorching-hot Memphis Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies have been tearing the league apart lately. Memphis is currently on a 10-game winning streak. And while a streak of wins that size is marvelous in itself, the numbers they put up over the last few weeks were even more impressive! And with one of the league’s most exciting young stars in Ja Morant leading the way, a team once known for its grit and grind is quickly becoming more familiar with winning.
Coming into Tuesday night’s matchup with the Golden State Warriors, the Beale Street Bears held the league’s fourth-best offense (112.2 ORTG) while also being ranked 12th in team defense (108.2 DRTG). But for the fourth-seeded Grizzlies, these numbers shouldn’t be all that shocking, given that good teams typically rank highly in both categories. However, it is surprising that Memphis has also scored over 110 points in all but one game during their red-hot run.
So yes, the Grizzlies are legit. So legit that they’d be in first place in the Eastern Conference over other solid teams like the Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets. And if the Timberwolves hope to prove further that they are no longer the same lottery-bound team that we’ve seen for so long, they’ll need to assert themselves in Memphis on Thursday night.
Minnesota has already shown that they can beat this conference heavyweight once this season, going 1-1 on the year so far. The difference between Games 1 and 2? Old habits vs. new attitudes.
In their first matchup back on Nov. 9, the Timberwolves resembled the painful team they were for the last decade or so. A team that seems like they are going to blow the lead even when they’re up double figures. And that’s just what happened when they allowed Morant and Co. to go on a 17-6 run to finish regulation tied and eventually win in overtime.
But before the devastating loss to the Pelicans, the Wolves that historically caused such heartbreak looked like a thing of the past. This year Minnesota finally seems to have the necessary do-or-die attitude, fostered primarily by veteran point guard Patrick Beverley. This new attitude allows the Wolves to do something hardly done in their recent past: Build and maintain a lead.
With this new mindset, Minnesota put away Memphis in their second outing. By holding Morant 11 points, (tied for a season-low), Minny did more than just beat Memphis. They completely outplayed them for four quarters, resulting in a 138-95 win.
Already, the Timberwolves are on their longest win streak since the Jimmy Butler era. And with Memphis’ best perimeter defender, Dillon Brooks, out 3-5 weeks due to a left ankle sprain, Minnesota should look to try and take advantage of a short-staffed team. However, this Grizzlies team somehow always seems to figure it out. Winning without their key players is nothing new. Brooks has already missed 24 games this year. Memphis’ response? Find ways to win 18 of the games that the fifth-year wing has been unavailable for.
Not impressive enough? A few weeks ago, they were without Morant after he suffered a sprained left knee. Their record without him? 11 and F’ING 2! So do the Timberwolves really even have an advantage?
After a devastating loss to the 13th-seed New Orleans Pelicans on the road, winning against a solid Grizzlies team is exactly what Minnesota needs. Hell, they may need to win this game more than any other game on their schedule. Sure, one loss to a bad team isn’t the end of the world for the Timberwolves. But for a team desperately trying to make a name for themselves, the Wolves need to show that they can bounce back from one rough night, further proving that their record is not a true reflection of how good they actually are.