The second round of the NBA Playoffs begins today with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies kicking things off in OKC.
Both of these teams’ series changed after the first two games. The Thunder saw Russell Westbrook go down with an injury that will keep him sidelined for the rest of the playoffs. Adjusting without Russ was very difficult.
Memphis lost the first two games of its series vs. the Clippers before coming back and winning four straight thanks to Zach Randolph averaging 26 and 10 in those last four games.
This series promises to be very different for both of these teams than their first round series were.
Oklahoma City will see a much more formidable defense than what Houston had. Memphis has the Defensive Player of the Year in Marc Gasol and a solid line of defense up and down their roster.
The Thunder saw their offense become much more stagnant since the Westbrook injury and that was against a poor defensive team in Houston. While OKC made some progress without Russ, things will be much more difficult vs. Memphis. Expect the open spot-up looks to decrease and life on Kevin Durant will get tougher as well.
Memphis had their way with the Clipper in the first round inside. If there is one team that can match Memphis’ bigs, it is the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Kendrick Perkins will be relevant again in this series and Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison will play much more important roles than they did vs. Houston. Memphis’ style of play actually sets up better for the Thunder in the post-Westbrook world. Playing more conventional lineups will be much easier for the Thunder and they won’t have to worry about going small to match up.
The key in this series will be how Memphis decides to defend Durant. They may try and play him somewhat straight up to ensure the other Thunder players don’t beat them or they may load up on KD whenever he touches the ball.
Either way, the Thunder are going to need others to step up and they should simply expect Durant to average 35.5 points per game like he did the last four games vs. Houston.
Reggie Jackson has done well in Westbrook’s spot. He has had success attacking in transition and sometimes in the pick-and-roll finishing at the rim. He still needs to make better decisions overall but he’s improving every game.
Kevin Martin may be the most important player in this series. Without him scoring at least 15 points every game, the Thunder probably won’t have a chance. He woke up in Game 6 vs. Houston scoring 21 of his 25 points in the first half and the Thunder will need more of that from him.
Collison seems to be the key to get Martin going. They have developed a nice two-man game this season and Martin seems to score much more when Collison is on the floor with him. Collison will of course be very valuable in defending Randolph as well and should see a lot of minutes in this series.
Ibaka is the final piece of the puzzle for the Thunder. He has been up and down in the playoffs. He seemed to have the most success when he could dominate the offensive glass vs. Houston, something that will be much more difficult to pull off vs. Memphis.
Ibaka should see more opportunities in the pick-and-pop and the Thunder ball handlers need to get him touches to get his confidence going. Ibaka will need to slow down Randolph and not bite on every pump fake that’s thrown at him. If he can help dominate the paint and really limit the Memphis bigs, OKC will be in good shape to win the series.
The Thunder have homecourt advantage and never before have they needed it as much. Memphis will look to steal one of these first two in OKC and the Thunder really can’t afford to let one slip away.
The Thunder and Grizzlies both have proven that they can win on the road in these playoffs which may result in this series gong seven.
The game will tip at noon CST and air nationally on ABC.