Grizzlies vs. Timberwolves preview: Two young, exciting teams clash in Round 1

Memphis Grizzlies guard De'Anthony Melton (0) celebrates a big play against the Orlando Magic with teammates forward Kyle Anderson, left, center Steven Adams, second from right, and guard Ja Morant (12) during the second half of an NBA basketball game. (John Raoux/AP)

They’re young, electric and play with an attitude.

Now we’ll excuse you for not knowing whether that sentence was about the Memphis Grizzlies or Minnesota Timberwolves, because it aptly describes both.

So get ready for some dunks, heat-checks, duels between rising stars, and a whole lot of Pat Bev in everybody’s face (and probably some fines to go with it). This series gets underway on Saturday, and neither team is backing down from the challenge.

Let's get into it.

Season series: 2-2

Quick Tape

Grizzlies: 56-26 | No. 4 offence | No. 6 defence | No. 5 net rating

Wolves: 46-36 | No. 7 offence | No. 13 defence | No. 10 net rating

Betting Futures

To win series: MEM: -320, MIN +260 (Courtesy FanDuel at time of publication)

To win championship: MEM: +1400, MIN: +3600

Grizzlies Starting 5: Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams

Grizzlies Bench: De’Anthony Melton, Tyus Jones, Ziaire Williams, Brandon Clarke, Kyle Anderson

Wolves Starting 5: Patrick Beverley, D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards, Jarred Vanderbilt, Karl-Anthony Towns

Wolves Bench: Malik Beasley, Jaden McDaniels, Naz Reid, Jaylen Nowell, Taurean Prince


• Saturday, April 16, Game 1: Minnesota @ Memphis, 3:30 p.m. ET
• Tuesday, April 19, Game 2: Minnesota @ Memphis, Time TBD.
• Thursday, April 21, Game 3: Memphis @ Minnesota, 7:30 p.m. ET (Sportsnet ONE)
• Saturday, April 23, Game 4: Memphis @ Minnesota, Time TBD. (Sportsnet 360)
Tuesday, April 26, Game 5: Minnesota @ Memphis,* Time TBD.
Friday, April 29, Game 6: Memphis @ Minnesota,* Time TBD.
Sunday, May 1, Game 7: Minnesota @ Memphis,* Time TBD.

Pulse of the Grizzlies

The Grizzlies might well be the story of the season. Last year they were a young rising team that finished ninth before squeaking into the playoffs via the play-in. This year, they bulldozed their way to the second-best record in the NBA.

What changed? For one, Morant blossomed into an All-NBA player and looked like an MVP candidate for most of the season while simultaneously putting together one of the best highlight reels in recent memory. But although Morant is the rightful face of the franchise as one most talented and entertaining players in the league, the best part about the Grizzlies is it’s not all about him. In fact, Memphis went 20-4 with Morant out of the lineup.

Jackson Jr. finally looks like himself since undergoing knee surgery and will likely earn All-Defence honours. Bane, my goodness, how often does a 30th overall pick become a near-20 point per game scorer in his second season? Not to mention his 43.6 per cent three-point percentage on seven attempts per game. Brooks, Melton, Clarke and the rest… this team genuinely goes 10 players deep with players who give all-out effort – which explains why they’re consistent and great on both ends.

The new era of Grit & Grind is pretty special.

Pulse of the Wolves

The pulse is… let’s just say the pulse is pretty strong right now:

In all seriousness, Tuesday night’s play-in victory might be the Wolves’ best moment since Kevin Garnett’s MVP season in 2003-04, when they also made the Conference Finals, so who can blame them for celebrating like they’d won a championship?

Memphis might be the story of the season, but Minnesota still made the shortlist by moving from the pits of despair into the playoffs. Beverley has given this team an attitude and an edge, and Edwards looks like a budding superstar – great enough to potentially supersede Towns as the team's frontman, which felt all more real after the centre turned in an abominable performance on Tuesday.

Asides from Towns’ blunder of a game – which should be an exception rather than the norm – the pulse is strong. A season that was already a resounding success by Minnesota’s standards only got better, and now they face a Grizzlies team with hardly any more playoff experience. They also match up well, with Towns potentially causing problems and lots of defenders to throw at Morant.

Key matchup to watch

Ja Morant vs. Patrick Beverley. Beverley will have one mission in this series: Get in young Morant’s head, get him off his game. Beverley is already wiling out before the playoffs have even started, he’s really in full form, and the two have gotten into it before. But Morant plays with a swagger that feels impenetrable. If he can withstand a full series of Beverley, that’s confirmed.

Side Note: There really is no shortage of matchups to watch. Add Morant vs. Edwards and Towns vs. Jackson Jr. to the list.

Grizzlies win if …

They play their game. Don’t get caught up in Pat Bev’s antics, just the play the way you have all season. The Grizzlies have been so consistent all year, no matter who’s in the lineup, which is why Taylor Jenkins likely wins Coach of the Year. If they remain relentless, stick to their fundamentals and don’t get side-tracked, there’s just no way they lose a seven-game series. Even if a Towns or Edwards performance steals one or two.

Wolves win if …

Towns dominates. Now that alone may not be enough, but that’s what gives them the best chance. Towns should prove far too much for Adams to handle, and whether or not Jackson Jr. is up to the challenge remains to be seen. But what Memphis might do is send a wing player to guard Minnesota’s big man on the perimeter, while having their own big man ready to provide help defence if Towns takes it to the basket. That’s what the Clippers did successfully. Towns will need to figure that out for Minnesota to have a chance.


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