The Memphis Grizzlies know their playoff opponent will be the Minnesota Timberwolves. Now they’ll have motivation after TNT’s “Inside the NBA” crew made their predictions late Tuesday night.
Both Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal picked the No. 7-seeded Timberwolves to upset the Grizzlies while Kenny Smith picked the Grizzlies. The series begins Saturday at FedExForum (2:30 pm, ESPN / Bally Sports Southeast)
After Barkley called the Timberwolves inconsistent and “the dumbest team in the league,” he still picked them because of their perceived talent advantage. Smith followed by praising the Grizzlies as both talented and smart.
“To me, talent gets you to the playoffs. Your experience and your smarts get you out of each round. We’ve seen what Memphis has done even without Ja (Morant),” Smith said. “They are a smart basketball team, they look for each other, they collectively do things. There is a game plan that you can honestly see every time they walk on the floor.”
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O’Neal sided with Barkley because he liked how the Timberwolves don’t “crack under pressure.” He praised how they rallied against the Clippers after All-Star Karl Anthony Towns fouled out in the fourth quarter.
“Can you play frazzled because you know Patrick Beverley, he has his antics,” O’Neal said. “A lot of times when you get upset, you can’t play. Can you play frazzled for 4-7 games? We shall see.”
Smith and host Ernie Johnson fired back asking when has Memphis cracked under pressure. Per NBA stats, the Grizzlies have the NBA’s second-best win percentage this season in clutch situations (.656) as defined by the last five minutes of a game when a team is leading or trailing by five points or fewer.
The Grizzlies are 21-11 in clutch time with close wins over the Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors and Utah Jazz. It also includes an overtime win against the Timberwolves where the Grizzlies rallied from a 16 point-fourth quarter deficit.
That didn’t sway O’Neal or Barkley, who turned to the stats in the Grizzlies-Timberwolves regular season series. They questioned Ja Morant only averaging 20 points in four games compared to Timberwolves guard D’Angelo Russell averaging 31.0 points as well as how Morant would handle Beverley’s tenacious defense.
“That tells me it’s a tough matchup for him, especially if D’Angelo plays the way he did” Barkley said. “And secondly, the irritant (Beverley) is going to be driving Ja crazy. I’m going with the upset.”
He noted this might be the first time the Grizzlies will be favored in a playoff seed. It’s just the second time in franchise history that they’ll have home court advantage.
However, the Grizzlies defied expectations from being a play-in prediction before the season to the No. 2 seed. They’ll be expected to win this series but Grizzlies fans will now wish for it more to throw it back in both Barkley and O’Neal’s face.
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