The Oklahoma City Thunder get a real test tonight at home on national TV when they take on the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Thunder have won five straight games but haven’t exactly beaten many elite teams in the NBA so far this season. Memphis would be their best win if they can pull it off tonight.
The Grizzlies are coming off a very impressive win on their home floor in their last game vs. the Miami Heat. They beat Miami 104-86 behind 21 from Rudy Gay and 18 and 12 from Zach Randolph.
Memphis has been solid on both ends of the floor so far this season ranking 8th in offensive efficiency and third in defensive efficiency. Those ranks are right behind the Thunder but also significantly higher than a lot of OKC’s recent opponents.
The Grizzlies are one of the best post-up teams in the league scoring 0.86 points per possession on those plays which is 9th best in the NBA. The Thunder are the best however at defending post-up plays allowing just 0.53 PPP on the year.
The matchup down low will be a physical one as Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka try to contain Randolph and Marc Gasol. The Thunder have been one of the best defensive rebounding teams this season but Memphis is the third best offensive rebounding team in the league this year.
The Thunder should be able to slow down the Grizzlies bigs but this year, OKC is asking for more from Ibaka offensively as well. Ibaka is averaging 14.1 points per game this season while taking three more shots per game as well. He’s mostly settling for spot-up jumpers which he should be able to still get in this matchup.
Russell Westbrook has improved his passing so far this season and his connection with Ibaka has been an emphasis. Westbrook’s coming off a big game in the Thunder’s comeback win over Detroit in which he scored 33 points to go with four dimes.
Memphis has historically played Westbrook tough. It’s hard not to forget Westbrook’s 0-for-13 performance against the Grizzlies early last season. He will be challenged to play more under control tonight and make the right decisions for the Thunder to win tonight.
In a physical atmosphere at home, it will be crucial for the Thunder to get to the free throw line. OKC is coming off a game in which they attempted 42 free throws so they have that mindset fresh in their heads.
Kevin Durant might have to take over a little more vs. some of the better teams in the league this year. He’s scored 24 or more points in each of the last four games while shooting over 50 percent from the field in that stretch.
Durant has been at his best finding alternative ways to score rather than his usual isolation and pick-and-roll ball handler game. Durant is shooting 52.6 percent from the field in the post this season and 63.6 percent as the pick-and-roll roll man. If he’s stuck relying on isolation plays vs. this Memphis defense, it won’t be a good sign for the Thunder.
The other important factor for the Thunder will be Kevin Martin. He’s been fantastic so far this season shooting 50 percent from three and is sixth in the league in points per possession. He’s most valuable to the Thunder when on the floor with Durant and Westbrook, spreading the floor and getting points with not a lot of touches.
The Thunder will see a different animal tonight in the Memphis Grizzlies. The question is: will we see a different Thunder team because of that? Or will the Thunder control the game on their home floor?
The tip is at 8 p.m. EST on ESPN.