Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 3/27/12
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That looked familiar: another loss in Memphis, another low-scoring night, another 48 minutes lacking in energy spark. The Timberwolves' 93-86 loss to the Grizzlies on Tuesday was eerily reminiscent of the last time they played in Memphis, but in the month and a half since, the teams' paths have quietly diverged. On Feb. 8, both were 13-13, and it was too early to say which might make the playoffs. And though that conjecture might still be premature, Memphis has proven since that last win that it's a legitimate contender. It's pushed its record to 27-21, good for sixth in the Western Conference, while the Timberwolves have fallen to three games below .500, the playoffs becoming an ever more distant goal. Give Minnesota some credit, though, beyond just the excuse of injuries. It hasn't been in this position in years, one in which wins and losses actually matter down the stretch. Memphis, on the other hand, was there just last year, and that postseason experience gave the Grizzlies a foundation upon which to build their success this year. "They're solid," Timberwolves' coach Rick Adelman said of Memphis. "They move the ball. They all share it. I think the success they had last year in the playoffs has a lot to do with that. They trust each other." There's a certain trust among the Timberwolves, of course, but with lineup fluctuations and injury, that comfort level simply is not there yet, and it may not ever develop to the point it needs to this season. They're young and still adjusting to one another, whereas Memphis has built a fluid system. On Wednesday night, even with the team's second-leading scorer, Marc Gasol, out, each of the Grizzlies' starters finished the night in double digits. From Rudy Gay's 21 to Mike Conley's 12, they all contributed, creating a difficult situation for the Timberwolves' defense. Minnesota, by contrast, relied on Kevin Love throughout the night. His 28 points and 11 rebounds were ordinary -- for him -- but he still led all players in the game in scoring and was second in rebounding. That wasn't enough, though, as only two other Timberwolves, Derrick Williams and Wayne Ellington, finished the night in double digits. Even Love's nine fourth-quarter points (nearly half of the team's 19 in the game's final 12 minutes) weren't enough to spark the team as the clock ticked down. Adelman has said that in this season riddled with injuries, he's at times worried about Love's minutes. The power forward leads the league in minutes per game, averaging 39.8, and he played 38 minutes on Wednesday night. He has to rest sometimes, though, and Adelman was critical of how his team responded at the end of the third quarter with Love on the bench. "We have to find a way to make sure we maintain during that time frame," Adelman said. But it was more than those 10 minutes that Love sat that cost the Timberwolves the game. Adelman complained about several calls not going Minnesota's way in the fourth quarter, and Memphis capitalized on physicality and defense in the game's second half. And though there was nothing the Timberwolves could do to combat the referees' decisions, they did little to respond to Memphis and the rhythm it set. Adelman said that his team needed to set a tone for the game earlier, but instead Memphis did, playing in such a way that it assumed fouls and physical play wouldn't be called. In the fourth quarter especially, the Grizzlies were able to get the stops they needed, and they clinched the game, outscoring Minnesota by six. "We picked up our defensive presence out there," Rudy Gay said. "That drives us. Every night, that drives us. If we don't go out there and force teams to play our way, we're going to have a tough night." Memphis has enough confidence to believe that if they can control a game, it's within reach. The Timberwolves have yet to build that kind of mentality and system, with a foundation of only 41 games together and 24 wins to build upon. But if the Grizzlies -- who were a losing team just two seasons ago -- are any indication, then if the Timberwolves start winning, it shouldn't take long to grow that belief and confidence. Follow Joan Niesen on Twitter.
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