for this game

New-look Wolves open campaign in Memphis

Oct 29, 2014 - 1:43 PM ( - The new-look Minnesota Timberwolves will get their season underway Wednesday on the road against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedEx Forum.

Kevin Love will not be in a Minnesota uniform to kick off the season for the first time since he was drafted fifth overall in 2008. Love was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the offseason to team up with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.

The Timberwolves never made it to the playoffs with Love as the cornerstone of the franchise and haven't punched a postseason ticket since 2003-04. The Wolves landed the No. 1 picks in the last two drafts, Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, for Love as well as veteran power forward Thaddeus Young from Philadelphia.

Minnesota also drafted UCLA guard Zach LaVine to add to a core that includes Nikola Pekovic, Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer. Martin was second on the team with 19.1 ppg behind Love's 26.1 ppg. Brewer still feels the Timberwolves are talented enough to move on without Love.

"I feel like we can still compete," Brewer said. "I played on a Denver team that was the third seed and we didn't have a superstar at all. You don't have to have a superstar to be able to compete."

There is plenty of upside and potential with this young nucleus of players, but it will take time to jell.

Look for an estimated 20 to 25 wins for Minnesota in the return of head coach Flip Saunders. Saunders spent parts of 10 seasons from 1995-2005 as the Wolves' coach and was let go at the start of the 2004-05 campaign.

Saunders, though, returned to the Twin Cities in 2013 as president of basketball operations. He also took a minority ownership stake in the team and is replacing the retired Rick Adelman, who spent three seasons with the T- Wolves, who tried to make a run last season and ended with 40 wins. It was the fourth straight season the Wolves improved their previous year's win total.

"We had enough veterans to jell the team, but there was just something that happened around February," Martin said. "I couldn't put my hand on it but our team just went in a totally different direction. We dealt with a lot of off- the-court issues."

The T-Wolves were third in the NBA in scoring last season with 106.9 points per game and allowed 104.3 ppg on defense. They were 3-20 when failing to score 100 points and it will probably get worse with Love gone.

Minnesota, which ended the preseason with four straight wins, has won two straight and four of six season openers, but is 2-6 all-time when starting on the road. The Wolves will have a run of 13 straight season openers at home come to an end.

The Grizzlies have struggled mightily on their first night, having lost 13 straight season openers dating back to 2000-01. The team resided in Vancouver at the time and moved to the Volunteer State the next season.

It's surprising how poorly the Grizzlies have played in their lid-lifters, despite the amount of success they've had in recent years. They made the postseason for a fourth straight time in 2013-14, when they went 50-32 and recorded at least that many wins for a second year in a row.

Memphis lost to Oklahoma City in seven games in the first round and is hoping year No. 2 under David Joerger will bear more fruit. Joerger recorded the best record of any of the 10 first-year NBA head coaches last season and preaches defense as evidenced by the 94.6 ppg clip -- best in the West.

Joerger put his team's chances for another playoff run in perspective.

"I don't think there's high expectations for this team. We're the team nobody's talking about nationally," he said. "There's really good teams in the West."

Well, the Grizzlies are pretty good, too. They have a strong bunch of players in Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and newcomer, veteran Vince Carter. Randolph and Gasol give Memphis a formidable frontcourt duo and the former posted 47 double-doubles in 2013-14.

"We have good depth and good experience," said Joerger.

Randolph averaged 17.4 points and 10.1 rebounds -- both team highs -- and Conley posted a career-high 17.2 ppg. Gasol was third with 14.6 ppg and second with 7.2 rpg despite missing time because of a knee injury. Gasol had 18.0 points and 9.3 rebounds in April.

Carter will most likely pass Robert Parish and Charles Barkley on the NBA's all-time scoring list (23,190). Parish had 23,334 and Barkley posted 23,757.

The Grizzlies and T-Wolves split four meetings last season, but Memphis has won 16 of the previous 19 matchups. The two teams will meet again in January, March and April.

Minnesota has lost 15 of the past 19 games on Beale Street.