When: Tuesday, January 14th, 7:00 PM CST
Where: FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN
The Grizzlies’ conquest towards .500 finds its next stepping stone in the last game of their four game homestand, as they’re set to square off against the Oklahoma City Thunder. OKC, one again missing its All-NBA point guard Russell Westbrook, comes into this one about as cold as it has been since the Western Conference Semifinals, having fallen in four of its last seven contests. The Grizzlies, to the contrary, finally appear to be firing in synchrony as they await the return of the reigning defensive player of the year to their frontline.
Expected Starting Lineups:
Mike Conley vs Reggie Jackson
Mike Conley has continued his evolution into a full-grown warrior. To support this, let me throw a handful of stats at you that stand out: consecutive 30+ point outings against San Antonio and Phoenix, 13 assists against Atlanta, 13-13 from the foul line in the past two games, 3+ steals in three of the past five games, 3 three pointers in each of the four games prior to the Atlanta game, 51.2% from the field over his past five, and a career high PER of 21.1 on the year. Okay, I’m done for now. There are few players in the league as hot as Mike Conley right now, and Reggie Jackson is not one of them.
Courtney Lee vs Thabo Sefolosha
With Courtney Lee starting in place of Tony Allen, I’d be tempted to call this a battle of prototype 3-and-D shooting guards, but Thabo Sefolosha has not been shooting the long ball this season with the reliable stroke that he provided for Oklahoma City in the previous two years. His three point percentage has fallen to a shade below 30%, after being counted on for well over 40% in the past two years. Lee may be new to the fold, but has fit in tremendously thus far.
Tayshaun Prince vs Kevin Durant
There have been some grumblings out there of Kevin Durant missing practice after taking a hard fall against the Bucks over the weekend, but if I was a betting man, I’d say he takes the floor tonight against the team that sent him home from the 2013 playoffs. If he does suit up, I’m not sure what analysis there is to be done here. He’s an irrefutable member of the basketball elite, and will be a true test to the health of Tayshaun Prince and the poise of James Johnson, who will have to be very careful with his tendency to foul, tonight.
Advantage: Oklahoma City
Zach Randolph vs Serge Ibaka
Zach Randolph is still doing his thing snagging double doubles on the regular, but perhaps what is most noteworthy of late is his ability to see the floor and find open teammates. During the recent stretch of games, he has managed 5 assists against Detroit, 7 against Phoenix, and 3 against Atlanta. If the Grizzlies continue to put lineups on the court with players that can knock down that stand-still jump shot, Zach should be able to sustain this passing productivity by making opponents pay for packing it in on him. Tonight’s opponent Serge Ibaka is somebody whose length and defensive prowess have been the cause of struggle for Zbo in the past, but he has sacrificed a portion of his block-happy nature this season in order to focus more on crashing the defensive glass. He would be smart to keep that up by trying to keep Zbo off the offensive boards tonight. Serge is a tough matchup for the Grizzlies’ power forward, but he has been so effective lately that I’m going to hold out hope that he’ll find a way to get through and around him.
Kosta Koufos vs Kendrick Perkins
Sometimes I look at Kendrick Perkins and think that his impact can’t get any worse — then somehow it does. Cautiously peeking over at his 82games profile tells us that his net production (PER – OPP PER) is a -9.9. The more Oklahoma City plays him, the better for us.
Mike Conley and Zach Randolph have been great, but beyond those two, it’s the Grizzlies’ bench that has been worthy of a rousing ovation for holding the team on it’s shoulders recently. Ed Davis and James Johnson have been a magnificent injection of athleticism, while Mike Miller and Jon Leuer have alternated between offering floor spacing ability in the recent span. If the Grizz can just get some positive lines out of Nick Calathes (-13 +/- vs. Atlanta) to spell some rest for Conley, the bench would arguably be as complete as it has been since the Hubie Days. Oklahoma City’s “Nick” (Collison) is one of the more on/off impact friendly bench players in the league, though this is partially skewed by how inept Perkins has been. Thanks to Westbrook’s injury pulling Jackson off the bench, he’s joined in the second unit by really just Derek Fisher and Jeremy Lamb, who hardly provide the Thunder a comparable spark to what the bench has possessed in recent years.