The Memphis Grizzlies are terrible. They entered Monday at 19-54, the NBA’s second-worst record, having lost 23 of their last 24 games. On Thursday, they lost to the Charlotte Hornets, another team for whom the season’s just about all over but the shoutin’, by 61 points.
The Minnesota Timberwolves, even without injured All-Star JimmyButler, looked at their counterparts on Monday night and essentially chalked up a win before the opening tip. And that was the problem.
The Grizzlies went into Minneapolis and straight-up beat Tom Thibodeau’s club, dominating the fourth quarter behind a hellacious closing kick from second-year reserve guard Wayne Selden to earn a 101-93 win — Memphis’ first on the road in 2018. (It is damn near April.) Selden scored or assisted on 19 points in the final frame to help Memphis come back after trailing by six in the final minute of the third quarter, leading six Grizzlies in double figures — including lone star standing Marc Gasol, who added 20 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, three blocks and two steals in a “oh, that’s right, Marc Gasol is awesome” sort of performance — to deliver the Grizz their first away victory against an over-.500 opponent since early November.
Minnesota, on the other hand, managed just 11 points as a team on abysmal 3-for-17 shooting in the deciding quarter. Karl-Anthony Towns, Jeff Teague and Jamal Crawford combined to miss all 11 shots they took with the game in the balance. The Wolves turned the ball over eight times in the final 12 minutes.
It was about as rancid a conclusion as possible, a sloppy finish coming after a sleepwalking start that set the tone for what sure looks like the team’s most disappointing loss of the season.
Jeff Teague: "This was the worst loss, by far. … they're not playing for anything right now. They're playing for heart and pride and they came out and kicked us."
— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) March 27, 2018
Not much else to say besides this an absolutely miserable loss and part of a a very troublesome trend this season. Wolves were 14 point favorites tonight and got outplayed by an abysmal Memphis squad that hasn’t been able to beat anybody.
— John Meyer (@thedailywolf) March 27, 2018
Dispiriting defeats have been coming more frequently of late for the Wolves, who dropped to 8-11 without Butler on the season, compared to 34-22 with him in the lineup. Even so, though: these were the tanking Grizz, coming into a gym where Minnesota’s 27-9 on the season, playing against a team that still featured Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Teague and Taj Gibson (who, in fairness, were just about the only two Wolves with a pulse on Monday) … and they still couldn’t get the job done?
Jimmy Butler couldn't believe the Wolves lost to the Grizzlies at home… pic.twitter.com/b3xnUUNloF
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 27, 2018
The Wolves couldn’t stop a team led by the starting backcourt of Andrew Harrison and Dillon Brooks. They couldn’t match up against an anachronistic jumbo frontcourt of Gasol, JaMychal Green and Jarell Martin. They couldn’t cover the 3-point arc, and especially the short corner, worth a damn, allowing a Memphis team that ranks in the league’s bottom 10 in 3-point makes, attempts and percentage to go 15-for-31 from deep, with Gasol (4-for-7) and Selden (4-for-6, including three in the fourth quarter) to do the bulk of the damage.
Thibodeau, insistent as ever on riding his top guns as hard as possible, ran Gibson, Wiggins and Teague for 42-plus minutes a piece; he only went eight deep on Monday, and that included relative cameos for Gorgui Dieng (seven points on seven shots in 14 minutes) and reserve point guard Tyus Jones, who clocked just under six minutes of tick. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Wolves looked flat-out cooked down the stretch, settling for bad shots and short-circuiting possessions they needed to maximize with poor decisions and costly turnovers.
As a result, Minnesota — a half-game out of third place in the West just three weeks ago — now sits in eighth in the conference at 42-33, a half-game behind the surging Utah Jazz. Monday’s lone silver lining for the Wolves: the team chasing them in the standings, the Denver Nuggets, suffered yet another rough loss, getting blown out by the Philadelphia 76ers in Pennsylvania to remain 1 1/2 games out of the No. 8 spot.
All’s not lost for the Wolves. They’ve got one of the softest remaining schedules in the league, while Denver and the 10th place Los Angeles Clippers face stiffer slates down the stretch, and even after Monday’s loss, they’re still heavy favorites to outlast the Nuggets and Clippers for one of the West’s last spots. (For what it’s worth, two of Minny’s last final seven games come against Denver, meaning Mike Malone’s team still technically controls its own postseason destiny; they just have to get their [expletive] together, first.) You’ve got to imagine that’s all cold comfort for Wolves fans, though.
Minnesota’s defense, expected to eventually become a strength under famous taskmaster Thibodeau, still ranks among the NBA’s half-dozen worst, and has been significantly worse than even that whenever Butler’s not on the floor. Some of Thibodeau’s most frequently used vets have openly campaigned for reserves to get more opportunities so that they can get a breather; instead, Thibs shortens his rotation, runs the same underperforming lineup for the game’s final 10 1/2 minutes, proclaims his team’s fizzle-out “hard to explain,” and demands more “toughness.”
Thibs really called for more toughness tonight. Praised Teague, Taj. Said Bjelica isn't afraid to mix it up. Clear implication that Towns and Wiggins, in his eyes, have to bring more.
— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) March 27, 2018
They will, of course, get a boost on both ends of the floor when they get Butler back, which they hope will happen before the end of the regular season. But after a night like Monday, you can’t help but wonder: if Butler’s anything less than 100 percent come Round 1, how much can we really expect of the Wolves against Houston or Golden State if they can’t even beat perhaps the worst team in the NBA at home without him?
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