Timberwolves vs. Grizzlies: Looking for the first win…

Oct 29, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau (L) speaks to referee Lauren Holtkamp (7) after a call against the Sacramento Kings during the fourth quarter at Golden 1 Center. The Kings won 106-103. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Timberwolves return to Target Center for the home opener with a disappointing 0-2 record to face the Memphis Grizzlies once again.

We’re only two games into the season, but, at least to some folks, the sky is already falling in Wolves land.

Two huge, double-digit leads on the road have turned into two gut-wrenching losses to teams that the Wolves will need to stave off if they’re to crack the top-eight in the Western Conference and sneak into the playoffs come spring.

Ricky Rubio is hurt and out indefinitely according to the team, although media reports suggest one or two weeks and perhaps three at the most is probably what the Wolves’ starting point guard will miss.

Karl-Anthony Towns hasn’t been exactly the same player he was a year ago, so there is some (unnecessary) wringing of hands over that, and perhaps more concerning, Andrew Wiggins has yet to log a single assist in 71 minutes of play this year.

But the Wolves get a chance to right the ship against a beatable Memphis Grizzlies team tonight, and really can’t afford to be down 0-2 in the season series against a key competitor for the bottom rungs of the playoff race in the West, not to mention starting the season with an 0-3 record would be fairly deflating.

The preview follows…

Oct 19, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) dribbles in the third quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies at Target Center. The Timberwolves beat the Grizzlies 101-94. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota Timberwolves Preview

Record: 0-2 (Home 0-0, Road 0-2)

Starting Lineup

PG – Kris Dunn (7 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 2.5 APG)

SG – Zach LaVine (20 PPG, 5 RPG, 2.5 APG)

SF – Andrew Wiggins (27 PPG, 4 RPG, 0 APG)

PF – Gorgui Dieng (13 PPG, 13.5 RPG, 1.5 BPG)

C – Karl-Anthony Towns (18 PPG, 5 RPG, 4.5 APG)

Key Reserves

The Wolves bench is already short Kris Dunn, as he will start in place of the injured Ricky Rubio today according to Tom Thibodeau. To this point in the young season, the bench has not been as advertised, and they’re already going to have to turn to either second-year guard Tyus Jones or veteran John Lucas III as the backup point man — neither of whom has played yet this year.

Outside of Dunn, Shabazz Muhammad is the leading scorer off the bench thus far, putting up 5.5 points in 12.5 minutes per game. Thibodeau has played his starters heavy minutes of late, and now his bench will have to gel with a new leader as Dunn will be running with the starters for the near future.

Oct 26, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) handles the ball against Minnesota Timberwolves forward Karl-Anthony Towns (32) during the second half at FedExForum. Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 102-98. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Memphis Grizzlies Preview

Record: 2-1 (2-0 Home, 0-1 Away)

Starting Lineup

PG Mike Conley (19.7 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 6.7 APG)
SG Andrew Harrison (5.7 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 3.0 APG)
SF James Ennis (13 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1 APG)
PF JaMychal Green (9.7 PPG, 7 RPG, 0.7 APG)
Marc Gasol (19.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2 BPG)

Key Reserves

After the opening night game in which the Grizzlies started Jarell Martin, rookie Andrew Harrison has been inserted into the starting lineup.

Tony Allen and Chandler Parsons will likely remain out for tonight’s game, meaning that the Grizzlies bench will once again be led by rookie point guard Wade Baldwin and veteran big man Zach Randolph.

Once again, the Wolves should have the better bench, although Rubio’s absence will impact the rotation significantly.

Oct 26, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) reacts after the play against the Minnesota Timberwolves during the second half at FedExForum. Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves 102-98. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Three Things to Watch

1. The point guard match-up. Normally in Wolves vs. Grizzlies we’d highlight Rubio vs. Conley, which Conley won fairly easily last Wednesday. But this time around, it’s the rookie, Kris Dunn.

To this point, Dunn has struggled mightily in 17.5 minutes per game over two contests, but he’ll now have the opportunity to run with the starters. Conley could eat his lunch and get him into foul trouble early, and the length of the Grizzlies could give Dunn issues on the other end of the floor.

God speed, Kris.

2. Rebounding. Neither team has exactly lit the world on fire when it comes to grabbing rebounds thus far, and both Towns and Gasol are indvidually averaging under seven boards apiece. Additionally, the Wolves simply could not handle Randolph off the bench last week, so that’s something to look out for.

3. Bench minutes. The Wolves bench is already massively depleted with Dunn moving into the starting lineup. Will John Lucas III or Tyus Jones play the backup minutes? Will Thibodeau simply play Dunn 40 minutes or so to also give him run with the backups and to keep that chemistry intact? Will Thibodeau give the likes of Nemanja Bjelica and Brandon Rush some extended minutes, perhaps alongside the starters, with a heavier schedule upcoming?

Oct 29, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio (9) speaks with head coach Tom Thibodeau (L) on the sideline against the Sacramento Kings during the third quarter at Golden 1 Center. The Kings won 106-103. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Game Prediction

This is a tough one. One the one hand, the Wolves should have beaten the Grizzlies on the road last week, holding a huge lead and even having a solid chance to win late. And that was in the Memphis’ home opener, no less. Plus, Allen and Parsons are each likely still out.

On the other hand, the Wolves are without Rubio and have blown two big leads already this season. Things could be rough.

But it is the Wolves’ home opener, and Thibodeau has had two days to try and get his team to fix things. Here’s hoping that Dunn is a revelation and whomever the backup point guard is plays solid minutes as well.

I’ll call this a (relatively ugly) 97-91 Timberwolves win.

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