MINNEAPOLIS — Rest will be in short supply between two familiar opponents in Minnesota on Saturday.
Already meeting for the fourth time this season, the Timberwolves will host the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday. Both teams will head to Minnesota, traveling for the second game of a back-to-back and down after each suffered losses on Friday.
Karl-Anthony Towns had 24 points and 11 rebounds for the Timberwolves in a 116-108 loss at Detroit. Andrew Wiggins scored 21 points and Zach LaVine added 20 points for Minnesota (19-31).
“The turnovers weren’t high, but those to me were very costly,” Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said of the team’s 13 turnovers, including two during a Pistons’ pivotal 10-0 run in the fourth quarter. “That’s what we’re talking about, understanding the intensity and the decision-making that’s necessary to not turn it over.”
Memphis (31-22) had a three-game winning streak snapped after a late lead was squandered as Russell Westbrook had his 25th triple-double of the season for Oklahoma City. Westbrook had 38 points, 12 assists and 13 rebounds for the Thunder in the win, while scoring the final 15 points of the game to pull Oklahoma City ahead for the win.
Marc Gasol had his sixth 30-point game of the season for the Grizzlies with 31 points and eight assists. Mike Conley had 18 points and Chandler Parsons chipped in with 12 points in 25 minutes. The points were two off the season-high for the oft-injured forward and the 25 minutes were a season-best.
“It’s disappointing,” Conley told the Memphis Commercial Appeal after the game. “This was a big game for us, not just because it was OKC but the schedule, the standings, stuff like that. These games matter because at the end of the year, you never know where you’re going to be. We know OKC is going to be right there with us. These games definitely matter and this was a big one for us.
“But, let it go. It’s been a long road trip. We’ve improved each night, even tonight. We showed some signs of great things. So, tomorrow, we have to hopefully learn from tonight and come back ready.”
Minnesota has struggled against Memphis this season. The two teams met twice in the first four games of the year and three times overall in November but haven’t met since.
The Grizzlies won two of the games, including the last one, 93-71 at home. The Timberwolves lone win came when Gasol, Conley and Parsons were held out of the lineup. Gasol and Conley have averaged 31 points per game combined in the other two meetings.
Parsons status for the back-to-back hasn’t been announced, but the Grizzlies are otherwise healthy. Memphis’ defense has again been strong under first-year coach David Fizdale. The Grizzlies also have a strong starting unit with Conley and Gasol. The bench is strong with Zach Randolph and Vince Carter able to provide plenty of pop.
Randolph is averaging more than 16 points, 10 rebounds and 28 minutes per game over the last 14 games as a reserve.
“We had a real need in that second unit,” Fizdale said. “We wanted Mike Conley to be more aggressive scoring in that first unit; decond unit really need some punch. He has really embraced it and truly re-invented himself.”
Minnesota’s is getting boost off the bench from Shabazz Muhammad, who’s scored in double figures seven times in his last nine games. He had 15 points on Friday, including going 3 of 4 from 3-point distance.
Thibodeau has stressed his team to improve defensively. After a strong start to the calendar year, Minnesota allowed 125 points and 116 points in two road losses this week. Individually, Thibodeau wants Towns, Wiggins and LaVine to emerge as better defenders.
“When you look at the teams that win in this league, they’re strong on both sides of the ball,” Thibodeau said. “That’s what we’re striving toward. We know we have a lot of work to do and the tone has to be set by those three guys.”
Thibodeau told reporters after the game that LaVine has a bruised knee and will be re-evaluated on Saturday. The Timberwolves were without rookie point guard Kris Dunn (late scratch with hand injury) and forward Adreian Payne (illness) on Friday.