The Pick: Timberwolves 97-89
For a team that is widely considered an elite defensive squad, the Grizzlies minus Marc Gasol sure have some glaring flaws. Sure, they have the seventh-best scoring defense in the league, but that only tells part of the story. They rank among the bottom-10 defenses when it comes to FG% and PPS against, two trends that explain why John Hollinger has Memphis ranked as the 26th most efficient defense. You heard me — 26th. Behind the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Timberwolves don’t exactly provide defensive film that I use as teaching material, but according to Hollinger, they are above average when it comes to their defensive efficiency, which means they should put together a solid effort against an offensively challenged Grizzlies attack (21st in offensive efficiency) that has the least amount of possessions per game in the league.
In addition to the metrics, the Timberwolves will have the best player on the court, and in a star-driven league, that has significant value. Kevin Love, who has amassed 94 points, including 13 made 3-pointers at a 62-percent clip and 45 rebounds in his last three games, is going to be a tough matchup for Zach Randolph on the perimeter. However, the Grizzlies don’t have much of a choice as the 6-foot-10 Love is simply too big for a perimeter defender.
I’m intrigued by the Kevin Martin/Tony Allen matchup, as Martin is a finesse scorer and Allen is a physical defender. That being said, Martin’s scoring has been more of a staple than something that is necessary for the Wolves to win.
On the flip side, Minnesota has viable defenders in the few areas they’ll need help at tonight. Love and Nikola Pekovic are more than capable of handling the paint against the short-handed Grizzlies, and are two major reasons why the Wolves rank sixth in rebounds.
Allen and Tayshaun Prince are not big offensive concerns, especially if Mike Conley struggles a bit to initiate the offense. Ricky Rubio ranks second in steals per game, and leads an opportunistic Timberwolves defense that tops the league in SPG.
Run through the lineups and tell me where the Grizzlies have the advantage. Maybe they get more production from the point guard position, although Conley’s 18 points and six assists isn’t that much better than Rubio’s 10 points and eight assists. Every other position favors the road team, and with 80 percent of the starters in this game expected to play 32-plus minutes, that’s a big edge to hold.
The Timberwolves allow opponents to shoot the fewer free throws than any other team and rank third in free throws made, a statistic that could result in a 10-point advantage by itself.
Fun Fact: Looking for an X-factor? Corey Brewer is shooting 60.5 percent from inside the 3-point line on the road this season.