Who: Memphis Grizzlies (32-24) at Oklahoma City Thunder (43-15)
When: Friday, February 28th, 7:00 PM CST
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
Watch and Listen: Sportsouth, 92.9 FM, 680 AM
Discuss: 3SOB on Twitter / 3SOB Forum, Grizzlies Message Boards
At about halftime on Wednesday night, I was getting ready to preface this post with something along the lines of, “after a great confidence building win over the Los Angeles Lakers…,” but then… yeah… that second half happened. Now it’s time for the Grizzlies to pick up the pieces and put together 48 minutes of consistent basketball, as they take on the slumping and hungry Oklahoma City Thunder, tonight. Have these teams ever played one another at full strength? It sure seems like they haven’t. And sure, one can make the case that Oklahoma City missing starting center doesn’t constitute “full strength,” but a seemingly equal argument can be made to the contrary. Nonetheless, the Grizzlies are stationed up in “Loud City,” to take on the western conference leading Thunder, in a game where a victory could provide a major boost going forward.
Mike Conley vs Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook has played only one game against the Grizzlies this season, after missing the playoff series in its entirety last year dealing with his knee troubles. In that meeting, he put up a bloated 27 points, 9 assists, and 6 rebounds, while shooting a dynamite 11-11 from the charity stripe. Since his return to the Thunder, after having yet another knee procedure done, The Thunder have surprisingly, or unsurprisingly, depending on who you ask, dropped thier first three games since the return of the All-NBA guard. On the Grizzlies’ side of things, Mike Conley is on a rugged rebound from an injury of his own and will need to get it together tonight if the Grizzlies are to have any chance of coming away with this one.
Advantage: Oklahoma City
Courtney Lee vs Thabo Sefolosha
I like to think of Thabo Sefolosha as a prototype of sorts in the realm of recent day “3 and D” wing players, as he carved out his niche within the Thunder’s starting lineup. At 29 years of age, however, his best days as a shooter appear to have already escaped him, as they were just starting to get good in the last two seasons. This year, his 3 point percentage is down considerably, at 33.8%, from the >40% marks that he posted in each of the previous two seasons. Courtney Lee was brought to Memphis to fulfill a similar role, and while his shooting hopped back onto the rails against the Lakers Wednesday, his defense suffered in return, as he saw his matchup Jodie Meeks come away with a game-high 19 points.
Tayshaun Prince vs Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant is a freak of nature. If there is any saving grace for the Grizzlies, it is that they have enough bodies on the roster to throw different looks at him for the duration of the evening, but that is a marginally comforting thought at best. This man is dangerous, and it’s going to take an all-around effort from Tayshaun Prince, James Johnson, and Tony Allen, to keep him from going bananas.
Advantage: Oklahoma City
Zach Randolph vs Serge Ibaka
For whatever the reason may be, it appears that the Thunder have devised a formula and written the book on how to neutralize the Grizzlies’ greatest asset: the frontline, while matching it up with only Serge Ibaka as a recognized impact player. In two games against the Thunder this season, Zach Randolph has been handicapped to 42% shooting or less on all three occasions. Additionally, dating back to last year’s playoffs he’s reached 50% shooting against them just once in eight games. After a slow start in the absence of Westbrook, Ibaka has rounded well into form and is having yet another fantastic season for himself. He’s hurt the Grizzlies in a number of ways this season, including his four blocked shots in their January meeting, and his 21 point 12 rebound line earlier this month. Tough matchup for number 50.
Advantage: Oklahoma City
Marc Gasol vs Steven Adams
The first game on the rebound from his knee injury, had Marc running up the floor smacking his butt against the Thunder. The following meeting not so much. The Thunder bigs are sizable and physical as hell on the glass, effectively rendering Marc’s rebounding impact negligible, and providing him absolute headaches independent of his hindered mobility due to the brace. Steven Adams was especially complicit in this flustering of Gasol, as basically a 7’+ version of his teammate Nick Collison off the bench. On the day before draft night, I asked him what it was that he admired about Gasol’s game, and he replied, “Just his skill level. Just what he does, you know what I mean? He passes the ball real well, he just does whatever he wants, but he’s just the man.” So with that, I’d imagine that he’s definitely getting up for this matchup. Hopefully for our sake he gets himself a little too hyped and into subsequent foul trouble.
Tony Allen. James Johnson. Boom. That’s pretty much my impression of the Grizzlies’ bench right now. Throw Mike Miller in between them to try and recoup some of the shooting that you lose by having these two dynamos on the floor simultaneously, and there’s your 2-4. Joerger has publicly stated his uncertainty of the sustainability of this lineup, but it’s fun as hell to see them out there together so far, and I’d love to see what they can do to toss differing defensive looks Durant’s way for the duration of this one. The Thunder bench is a bit of a bear in its own right, with a rapidly seasoning Reggie Jackson capable of bringing havoc and ball pressure at the guard position, while Nick Collison brings his license to foul in the paint, and Derek Fisher slacks off just enough to lull you to sleep, but refuses to go away. The wild card for the Thunder, though, is Jeremy Lamb, who has had productive spurts here and there, but has really hurt the Grizzlies in only the first of their three meetings so far this year.