It’s not surprising that the Memphis Grizzlies have been one of the league’s best defensive teams since Marc Gasol returned to the lineup over two months ago.
It’s clear that the Minnesota Timberwolves’ defense is showing no signs of improvement after a meltdown in their latest loss.
These teams with contrasting approaches meet Monday night, with the Grizzlies looking for a 10th straight home victory along with their 12th straight win in this series when Gasol is in the lineup.
Memphis (41-28) is 24-9 since Gasol returned Jan. 14 after missing 23 games with a left MCL sprain. Opponents are averaging a league-low 90.2 points against the Grizzlies since that date while shooting 42.9 percent for one of the NBA’s worst marks.
Gasol’s impact was evident in Saturday’s 82-71 home win over Indiana. He was a game-time decision after being treated for a Grade 1 left ankle sprain sustained in Friday’s 91-86 loss at Miami and didn’t warm up beforehand.
”I wanted to save every step I was going to take for the game,” said Gasol, who had 10 points and nine boards. ”It definitely helped the purpose, and made it worth it because we won the game.”
The Grizzlies are in a tight race with Golden State, Dallas, Phoenix for the final three Western Conference playoff spots. Gasol’s teammates were thankful for his effort.
"He’s such a big part even if he’s 40 percent because he just anchors us on both sides of the floor and we appreciate him giving us what we got tonight," forward Mike Miller said.
Minnesota (34-34) is allowing opponents to shoot a league-worst 47.2 percent. The Timberwolves allowed Phoenix to shoot 57.5 percent in Sunday’s 127-120 loss, blowing a 22-point lead as their slim postseason hopes were severely damaged.
"That was our playoffs right there and we lost, so this one hurts a lot more than others," said Kevin Love, who just missed his second career triple-double with 36 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists.
The Wolves scored a season-high 73 first-half points and had 103 through three quarters before shooting 23.8 percent (5 of 21) and getting outscored 34-17 in the fourth.
"We scored over 70 in the first half," said Love, who has a league-best 55 double-doubles. "It’s tough to put another 70 in the second half. I don’t know what it was, the ball movement, we got good shots, it’s just some of them didn’t fall and then they scored."
The Grizzlies have taken 12 of the last 13 matchups, with the only blemish when Gasol sat out a 101-93 defeat Dec. 15. Gasol last tasted defeat versus Minnesota on Feb. 6, 2010.
This will mark only the third time in the last 11 meetings between these teams that Gasol and Love will both be on the court.
Which point guard can establish the tempo between Mike Conley and Ricky Rubio figures to be critical. Minnesota entered play Sunday averaging 99.79 possessions per 48 minutes for the league’s fourth-highest figure while Memphis is last at 92.16.
The Grizzlies are enjoying their longest home win streak since a 13-game run Feb. 8-April 9, 2013.