Current Records: Oklahoma City Thunder (28-9), Memphis Grizzlies (17-19)
Last time they met: Oklahoma City Thunder (116) def. Memphis Grizzlies (100)
The Oklahoma City Thunder will take to the court against a familiar foe, the Memphis Grizzlies, after a short break. The Thunder have had a couple of days to rest and recover after taking care of business against the Milwaukee Bucks and now have their sights set on the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last season. While the Thunder (28-9) haven’t had an easy time of it with Russell Westbrook’s absence – going 5-5 over their past 10 contests, the Memphis Grizzlies (17-19) aren’t exactly setting the Western Conference on fire either. They have been without Marc Gasol for a while now and it has exposed them on the inside.
While the team records suggest that the Thunder should be able to take this one, there are a couple of key areas that OKC will have to focus on if they are going to mark this one down as a W.
The Thunder are also going to need to get a similar contribution from Jeremy Lamb. He showed his value against the Bucks with some smart play and 17 points off the Thunder bench. When the team was in need of a spark, Lamb provided one which fed the rest of the team and the Thunder were able to blow it open. He will be asked again to hit open shots, move the ball and bring the intensity.
Memphis is a “grind it out” style of squad and they will be wanting to slow the game down, dump the ball inside and keep the Thunder under 100 points. They will try to take advantage of the Westbrook-less Thunder again and their reliance on Durant by sending different defenders at him all night to slow him down. If Durant can not only beat them to the bucket but also create plays for Ibaka, Jackson and Lamb then the Thunder could run away with this one.
Reggie Jackson vs. Mike Conley
Reggie Jackson is going to need to step up and be counted in this one. Mike Conley has found some form and he really makes the Memphis Grizzlies go. Conley plays both ends of the floor well and gets the Grizz into their sets. Jackson is going to have to at least match him on both sides of the basketball and take some of the pressure off Kevin Duran and Serge Ibaka who are going to have their hands full with Tayshaun Prince and Zach Randolph respectively.
Kevin Durant vs Tayshaun Prince
Without Westbrook, much of the load is placed squarely on the skinny shoulders of the leagues leading scorer. Durant is going to need to find ways to be effective and score the basketball even through the tough defense of Prince and the help that the Grizzlies will send his way. He will get a number of different defenders and he needs to ensure he keeps attacking the rim and not settling for outside shots and playing into Memphis’ game plan.
Although the Thunder are only going .500 without Russell Westbrook, a number of those losses have been close encounters. While this is a dangerous game for the Thunder, with a balanced production and a strong defensive effort inside, the Thunder can take this one. I think that Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb step up and provide Durant and Ibaka with the support they need. Steve Adams and Kendrick Perkins will keep Zach Randolph quiet and although Conley will have a solid game, the Thunder will take this one 92 – 86.
Who do you think takes the points in this one? Let us know in the comments below!