After an emotional victory in last season’s play-in tournament, it seemed like the Minnesota Timberwolves were poised to make some noise in the Western Conference playoffs.
That is, until the Memphis Grizzlies were thrown into the mix.
Minnesota will be hungry for revenge on Friday when it hits the road for a meeting with the Grizzlies in a rematch of one of last season’s first-round playoff series in the West.
It took Memphis six games to dispatch the Timberwolves before it met a similar fate in the Western Conference finals against the Golden State Warriors. Nevertheless, it was still an impressive run by Minnesota, which turned things around just past the midway point of the season to win 22 of its last 33 regular-season games.
And after losing 129-117 to the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night to fall for the fifth time in their last six games, the Wolves could benefit from rediscovering that moxie that propelled them to the postseason for just the second time since reaching the Western Conference finals in 2004.
“We just got to come out with a lot of effort,” Timberwolves star guard Anthony Edwards said. “Last year, when we turned it around, we came out going at teams. I think we got to a point where we was like, ‘Man we done losing.’
“I think it’s going to happen, man, it’s going to come. What are we now? 5-7? It’s OK. We going to turn it around, don’t worry about it.”
Edwards will look to be one of the players to spearhead that resurgence, as he, along with Karl-Anthony Towns, is currently averaging a team-best 21.3 points per game.
But Edwards won’t be the only young superstar at the center of Friday’s matchup.
Ja Morant is averaging 28.8 points and has led the Grizzlies to four wins in their last five games, with the most recent triumph being a 124-122 overtime victory against the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday.
Morant scored Memphis’ final five points in the contest, including the free throw with five seconds left that halted a late 8-0 San Antonio run. He finished with 32 points, five rebounds and five assists on 14-for-25 shooting in what was his sixth 30-point scoring effort of the season.
Although it was a stressful finish, Morant said those are the types of games that help the team in the long run.
“Early in the season for us to have a couple games where we go down the stretch or go into overtime and being able to still come out with a win is big time for us,” Morant said. “We know every game is not going to be a blowout. So, having these reps helps us a lot.”
Desmond Bane has also been on a tear, averaging 28.5 points over his last eight games. He also scored 32 against San Antonio.
That backcourt duo will need to continue to step up during the absence of Jaren Jackson Jr., who is still out with a foot injury but was participating in 5-on-5 drills this week for the first time.
Center Naz Reid and guard Austin Rivers are day-to-day for Minnesota. Wolves forward Kyle Anderson will be facing his former team for the first time after spending the last four seasons with Memphis.
–Field Level Media