Minnesota’s trio (l-r) of D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards and Karl Anthony-Towns teamed up in an effort to stop Ja Morant in this matchup in November at FedExForum). The No.2 Seed Memphis hosts the No. 7 Minnesota in the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs on Saturday.(Photos: Warren Roseborough/The New Tri-State Defender)
Terry Davis

The records were plentiful as the latest version of the Memphis Grizzlies tied the franchise mark for the most victories in a season. When they host the Minnesota Timberwolves in the NBA’s Western Conference Playoffs, it will be the first time for the organization to host game 1 of an opening round.

Records broken

  • Most points scored by a single player (52) Ja Morant.
  • Most blocks by a player in a season in franchise history (177) Jaren Jackson Jr.
  • Most 3-pointers made by a player in franchise history (228) Desmond Bane.
  • Most offensive rebounds by a player in a season in franchise history (349) Steven Adams.
  • Most points by a player in consecutive games in franchise history (98) Morant.
  • First team in NBA history to lead the league in steals, blocks, and rebounds per game.
  • Longest winning streak in franchise history (11).
  • Most away wins in a season in franchise history (26).
  • Most points in a quarter in franchise history (55) New Orleans Pelicans.
  • Most points in a game in franchise history (152) Oklahoma City.
  • Biggest margin of victory in NBA history (73) Oklahoma City.
  • First division title in franchise history (Southwest Division).
  • Tied for most wins in a season (56).
Memphis’ Brandon Clarke (left) and Jaren Jackson Jr. made it difficult in the paint for Minnesota’s Malik Beasley as he tried to score during this earlier season matchup. (Photo: Warren Roseborough/The New Tri-State Defender)

Memphis vs …

The Grizzlies, despite all the flash on the court and style in which they play, still have a blue-collar mentality. They believe the key to success for them is through hard work on the defensive end of the court.

Their success did not come by relying on the 3-point shot. They have an inside-out work ethic.

Morant led the NBA in points scored in the paint. He finished the season with 27.4 points per game, with 16 coming from his favorite area on the court

Dillon Brooks earned some respect last season by raising his defensive performance up a couple of levels. This season, there was no drop-off, even though he spent a considerable portion on the injury list.

On multiple occasions, Brooks has said the team’s goal was to learn from last season’s lessons and apply them forward.

Next man up mentality

Memphis’ depth became readily apparent during the historic regular-season campaign, with the Grizzlies notching a 20-4 record with All-Star point guard Morant out of the lineup.

However, in the playoffs teams typically shrink their rotations. To be determined is whether the Grizzlies’ depth advantage comes into play during the playoffs.

Morant wasn’t the only player to miss extended time. Brooks, Ziaire Williams, the first-round pick last season (and a rotation fixture), and others missed games for a variety of reasons during the 82-game season.

Head coach Taylor Jenkins has had a consistent message: look at each game as the most important game of the season and don’t get too high or low after a victory or a loss. He has augmented that with his resolve to live with the results when the best effort has been made by a player and/or the team.

Jenkins continuously has noted the bonds on the team.

“I always say when you’re bonded off the floor and together, … you can really take that next step and make that on the court.”

First-round matchups

Memphis and Minnesota evenly split the four-game season series. Then – as is likely to be the case in the playoffs – the Timberwolves will rely heavily upon its dynamic inside-outside game, with Karl Anthony-Towns and Anthony Edwards.

Towns averaged 24.6 points per game and 9.8 rebounds.  He has been the focal point for the franchise over the past several years and is making his first playoff appearance with the franchise.

Edwards, an explosive player, averaged 21.3 points per game in his second season with the Timberwolves after being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.  He can score a lot of points in a short time span.

The crowd and the Grizzlies celebrate after this January win over the Timberwolves, Memphis’ 11th win in a row. (Photo: Warren Roseborough/The New Tri-State Defender)

Keys for the Grizzlies

Experience gleaned from last season’s journey to playoffs has helped Memphis, the second youngest team in the NBA, value every possession.

Against the Timberwolves, another key for Memphis will be not to fall for the mental games that Minnesota defender Patrick Beverly thrives upon. The Grizzlies have a noticeable team reputation as big trash talkers on the court and mostly have been able to back up their bravado with their play.

At the beginning of the season, the Las Vegas oddsmakers projected that the Grizzlies would only win 42 games. They blew past that mark, capturing the fascination of many during the process. A month ago, the team was featured on ESPN All-Access a month ago, with the ratings amounting to the best ever for the franchise.

It was clear early on that the team as a whole expected an elevated level of success that would deepen a run in this season’s playoffs. Along the way, the overall standard operating procedure was to talk of taking one day/game at a time.

Now, it’s time to step into the playoffs – aka the second season.

Said Brooks: “It’s time to flip the gears and start getting into playoff mode.”

The first game of the seven-game series against Minnesota is set for tip-off at 2:30 p.m. CDT on Saturday (April 16) at FedExForum. It can be seen on TNT.