By: Dan Slaubaugh
It's opening night in Memphis, and the Wolves are fully healthy and ready to begin the quest of bringing playoff basketball to the city of Minneapolis.
What: Wolves @ Grizzlies
When: 7:00 pm CT
Where: FedExForum - Memphis, Tennessee.
TV: Fox Sports North
Radio: 830 WCCO
I'm not sure how to place bets, but I'd like to put money on the game tonight.
The Grizzlies will be without starting forward Chandler Parsons (knee), PF Brandon Wright (ankle), and lockdown wingman Tony Allen (knee). So yeah, things are looking good for Minnesota heading into tonight's game.
What to watch for:
Gasol vs. Towns: These are two of the top five big men in the league. Towns had no trouble dealing with Gasol in last Wednesday's preseason game at the Target Center, putting up 31 points and 9 rebounds on 7-10 shooting in just 21 minutes. But make no mistake, Gasol will be a different beast tonight when the games actually count. If one of these bigs can get the other into foul trouble early, it will play big along the course of the game. That said, Towns must defend without fouling tonight, which won't be easy considering Gasol added a 3pt shot (6-13 in 5 preseason games) to his game over the offseason.
Randolph coming off the bench: David Fizdale opting to have Randolph on the bench when the ball tips isn't necessarily a demotion for Randolph. He'll still get plenty of minutes, and might be able to utilize mismatches better against opposing frontcourt players off the bench rather than the starting group. For example, when Thibodeau subs Bjelica in for Gorgui tonight he will assuredly have to guard Randolph. Not exactly the guy you want defending an old fashioned back-to-the-basket bully-ball post in Randolph. Team defense is something Thibodeau has preached and Bjelica might need a good dose of it tonight trying to handle the bulky veteran.
Underrated pg's: Ricky Rubio and Mike Conley are two of the most underrated pg's in the league (although Conley's $153mil contract doesn't really reflect that). They're both pass first point guards, with Conley being the better scorer out of the two. They're both great one-on-one defenders who are very active on the defensive end of the ball. For Memphis, Conley will need to be at his absolute best (scoring AND facilitating) tonight if they want to walk away with a win. For Minnesota, Ricky just needs to do what he's been doing all preseason. Limit turnovers, dish the ball, and make hell for opposing backcourts on defense.
Zach LaVine and Gorgui Dieng will both start on Opening Night for the first time in their careers.
Kevin Garnett currently holds the franchise record for most points scored on Opening Night at 34 (Sacramento - 11/5/99). Will that record be broken tonight?
The Wolves are 16-11 all-time in season openers and 3-7 when starting the season on the road.
Ricky Rubio will make his 4th consecutive Opening Night start, which will tie him for the 3rd-longest streak in team history.
PG: Ricky Rubio
SG: Zach LaVine
SF: Andrew Wiggins
PF: Gorgui Dieng
C: Karl-Anthony Towns
PG: Mike Conley
SG: James Ennis
SF: Vince Carter
PF: JaMychal Green
C: Marc Gasol
Grizzlies: Chandler Parsons (knee), Brandon Wright (ankle), Tony Allen (knee)
Home teams on Opening Night are usually favored, but given that Memphis will be without two of their starters and a key bench player, I'm opting with Minnesota in this one. Plus, the Grizzlies are notoriously awful on Opening Night boasting a 1-15 record in their short history.
Wolves win 100-92. Towns puts up 26/11. Rubio dishes out 12 assists. Dunn scores his first career points off of a steal.
Thanks for reading. Enjoy the game. Go Wolves.