Current Records: Oklahoma City Thunder (38-11), Memphis Grizzlies (26-20)
Last time they met: Oklahoma City Thunder (87) defeated by Memphis Grizzlies (90)
For the first time in a long time, the Oklahoma City Thunder are coming into this one on the back of a loss. After winning ten straight, the Thunder dropped their most recent game to the Washington Wizards. This clash against the Memphis Grizzlies is going to be a tough one, but the Thunder will be wanting to get themselves back on the winners list and also make up for the loss to the Grizz in mid January. Marc Gasol made his return from injury in that one and Serge Ibaka missed the game through illness, so it will be a little different this time around.
Both these sides are in some terrific form. The Memphis Grizzlies have won 11 of their past 12 games and have done so with a focus on the defensive end. They have been shutting teams down and grinding out wins which is the Grizzlies way. The Thunder on the other hand have been blitzing teams on the offensive end. While Kevin Durant’s streak of 30+ point games came to a close at 13 after he failed to score 30 in the blowout win against the Brooklyn Nets, the Thunder have still been racking up the points.
These clashes always provide good solid basketball games. Dating back to the NBA Playoffs last season where the Grizz defeated the Thunder and sent OKC home early, there also seems to be a nice little rivalry building. The teams are very even and match up well against one another. While it looks as though Memphis point guard Mike Conley will be out for this one, there is no shortage of talent on the floor and it will be an intriguing game.
Reggie Jackson vs Nick Calathes
Much like Reggie Jackson himself, Calathes has done a great job recently of covering for Mike Conley. He has been given the opportunity through injury and will be coming off a career high 22 point outing against the Milwaukee Bucks. He went head to head with Brandon Knight and more than held his own, but Reggie Jackson and the Thunder are a different beast all together. Jackson has been superb in the absence of Westbrook and has proven his value over and over again. He fills the stat sheet but he is also a terrific defender forcing turnovers and fighting over screens, and is very dangerous in the open court. If Jackson gets lose in this one, then we know he can light it up. He is coming off some solid all around performances and will look to take the pressure off Durant and Ibaka at the offensive end.
Kevin Durant vs Tayshaun Prince
These two talents have had some epic battles over the journey but more recently it seems like Durant is taking the points. Prince is not the same player he was even a year ago, and Durant has been playing at an MVP level all season long. The Memphis Grizzlies won’t just rely on Prince to limit KD though, they will also rotate players like Quincy Pondexter and Tony Allen at him. Last time, the Memphis defence was able to double Durant by leaving Perkins. If this happens again, Durant will have a tough night of it. It will be great to watch this matchup though and I think we might just see Durant get back over that 30 point mark in this one.
Oklahoma City Thunder frontline vs Memphis Grizzlies frontline
It is no coincidence that the fortunes of the Memphis Grizzlies has changed since the return of their man in the middle – Marc Gasol. The defensive presence of Gasol, coupled with the size, strength and footwork – has opponents in fits. The Thunder are going to need to address this if they are going to find themselves on the right side of the final score. Zach Randolph has been terrific all year as well and poses another issue. Kendrick Perkins is going to need to do a really good job here – similar to the one he did on Dwight Howard earlier in the season – if the Thunder want to at least draw even in the front court match up. Serge Ibaka has been terrific and his offence has been a pleasant surprise. He will be asked to continue that while also securing as many defensive boards as possible – and protecting the rim. When Steve Adams comes in off the bench, he is going to need to play physically which will suit him, but he will need to stay out of foul trouble. If the Thunder can do this and neutralise the big bodies, they should get a win.
If the Thunder can neutralise the big bodies, they should get a win, but it is easier said than done. The Grizzlies are in their best form of the season and nearly at full strength, but Conley is a big out. The Thunder on the other hand are coming off a loss – an unexpected loss really – where they turned the ball over far too often, shot poorly from deep and generally looked lay and tired. They won’t be able to replicate that performance and expect a win. Kevin Durant will need to lead this team again, but he is going to need that support he was getting through the 10 game win streak. Jackson will need to take care of the ball and Ibaka will need to be an option. The bench – specifically Adams and Jeremy Lamb are going to need to come in and do a job and if they can do that well enough, the Thunder should take out this won by 10 points.
Who do you think takes the points in this one? Let us know in the comments below!