The Western Conference features one of the most exciting 2-seed vs. 7-seed playoff series in recent memory.
The Minnesota Timberwolves and Memphis Grizzlies are two of the biggest surprises in the NBA. Few expected the T-Wolves to make the playoffs and no one thought the Grizz would lock up a No. 2 seed.
These are the top scoring offenses in the league with their young, uber-athletic rosters. Memphis has not won a playoff series since 2015 and Minnesota hasn’t won a series since 2004.
Which squad will break its playoff drought? Here are 5 keys that could determine the winner of the Timberwolves vs. Grizzlies matchup.
Who Takes Care of the Ball?
The Grizzlies average 9.8 steals per game, which leads the league. Meanwhile, the Timberwolves rank 21st in turnovers per game at 14.3 turnovers per game. If Minnesota does not take care of the ball, Memphis’ lethal fastbreak game — which leads the NBA with 17.7 fastbreak points per game — will feast.
Fortunately for the Wolves, they have a dangerous fastbreak game as well. They are fourth with 15.2 fastbreak points per game. In addition, Minnesota averages 8.8 steals per game (3rd).
Overall, these teams are deadlocked when it comes to forcing turnovers and scoring in the fastbreak. Explosive teams make teams pay dearly for mistakes, the Grizz and T-Wolves fit the description.
Whoever can take care of the ball will have a leg up in this series.
Minnesota Must Rebound Well
Memphis has a big advantage going into this series. The Grizzlies lead the NBA in rebounds per game (49.2 rebounds) and offensive rebounds per game (14.1 offensive rebounds).
Their offensive rebounding is particularly concerning for the T-Wolves. Minnesota is a good offensive rebounding team as well, ranked sixth in the category. But the difference here is the Timberwolves are not a great defensive rebounding team like the Grizz.
Minnesota ranks 25th in defensive rebounds per game. Below-average rebounding is not acceptable vs. the Grizzlies. Memphis will eat the Wolves alive on the offensive glass if given the opportunity.
Once again, this goes back to overall possessions in the series. Both of these offenses are mighty impressive, and elite rebounding gives the Grizzlies the inside track for more field goals attempted.
Karl-Anthony Towns Cannot Shy Away
As one of the NBA’s supreme scoring teams, the Timberwolves have a boatload of scorers. However, one player’s value is irreplaceable.
Karl-Anthony Towns is the lone All-Star in Minnesota. He must perform like an All-Star. In Tuesday’s play-in game, Towns looked agitated and frustrated all night long against the Clippers. He let the officials get the best of him and complained after every call.
With consistent foul trouble, his 33.4 minutes per game average was slashed to 24 minutes vs. the Clippers. Towns had a terrible night scoring 11 points while shooting 3-11 from the field. Los Angeles’ defense was clearly under his skin from start to finish.
Against the Grizzlies, it will get no easier for Towns. Memphis has one of the NBA’s best frontcourt defenders this season, Jaren Jackson Jr. Also, the 6-foot-11 center Steven Adams has been a solid defender throughout his career backed by his 7-foot-5 wingspan.
Memphis has all of the tools to defend Towns. This will be a tough challenge for the three-time All-Star center, but Towns is the backbone of the Wolves lineup. He must conquer this challenge if the Timberwolves want a shot at winning the series.
Shooting from Beyond the Arc
For the T-Wolves, their 3-point shooting could be their one clear advantage in the series. Minnesota has a rotation full of shooters. When their center, Towns, can step outside and shoot at a blistering 41% from deep, defending them becomes a problem.
Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell are microwave scorers capable of getting hot in a hurry. Both are 35.7% or lower on 3-pointers, but on the right night, they become nearly unstoppable. For instance, Edwards shot 5-11 from deep while pouring in 30 points in the play-in vs. the Clippers.
Anthony Edwards clutch step-back 3 over Paul George oh my god pic.twitter.com/WrGaxo2FPz
— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) April 13, 2022
As a team, they are the league leader in total 3-pointers made this season and are third in percent of points from 3-pointers (38.2%). In comparison, Memphis is on the opposite end of the spectrum with only 29.9% of their points coming from deep (27th).
The Grizzlies have three major threats from deep with Desmond Bane leading the way at 43.6% on 3-point attempts. Overall, the Grizz are a mediocre team from beyond the arc.
Without question, knocking down 3-pointers is where the T-Wolves could really hurt Memphis throughout the series. Minnesota has relied on shots from deep all season, now is not the time to turn away from it. Let it fly.
Can Ja Morant be Stopped?
If only one team in the NBA had the athletes to run with Ja Morant, it’s the Wolves. But does that mean Morant can be completely stopped? That is highly unlikely. The key here is limiting the explosive superstar guard.
Even limiting Morant seems impossible. The third-year point guard is posting career-high averages: 27.4 points, 6.7 assists, and 5.7 rebounds. Plus, he’s shooting efficiently at 49.3% and is shooting a career-high on 3-pointers (34.4%).
The Murray State alum has reached elite status this season, and has reached near MVP status. Morant is not one of the true contenders for MVP this season, which is hard to grasp. But that’s another discussion, it feels like Morant should be up for MVP without a doubt.
Clearly, the Memphis superstar guard is a problem. Can Minnesota hope to slow him down?
The Timberwolves are 24th in allowed points per game (113.2 points) and rank 26th in allowed fastbreak points per game (14.1 points). This does not fare well against the speedy and explosive Morant.
However, Minnesota’s paint defense could be its saving grace. The TWolves are 11th with 45.8 allowed points in the paint per game. Morant’s game relies on getting around the rim. Overall, Memphis lives in the paint as they average 57.5 points in the paint per game (1st).
Slowing Morant will be tough, but if the Timberwolves’ defense can hold up in the paint they have a chance.
Ultimately, the major key of this series is possessions. Both teams average over 115 points with a multitude of talented scorers. The team with the most shot attempts will likely win the series since each team has a fluid, efficient offense.
How many games will the Timberwolves vs. Grizzlies series go and who will win? Let your predictions be known by placing your bets at BetUS Sportsbook.