GAME: Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City
Time: 7:00 pm CDT
PLACE: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
Records: Memphis (28-22), Oklahoma City (40-12)
Expected Starting Lineups:
Memphis – Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Rudy Gay, Marreese Speights, Marc Gasol
Oklahoma City – Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins
On Saturday night, Memphis held on to beat the Bucks in Milwaukee, but not before some unnecessary hand-wringing drama. I hope that Lionel Hollins, shall we say, “strenuously” reiterated some of the fundamentals of basketball to the team after their boneheaded mistakes in the fourth quarter. It’s difficult to be too upset about the Grizzlies winning a game without Mike Conley or Dante Cunningham, both out with ankle issues, but this was a contest where they played virtually even with the Bucks in nearly every statistical category, except one: rebounding. They outrebounded Milwaukee 58-39 (18 to 9 in offensive rebounds), which was the turning point. The starting frontcourt combined for 35 boards with all three of them posting double-doubles.
Oklahoma City has won 6 in a row since dropping a contest in Utah on March 20th. They haven’t lost at home since the Spurs beat them on March 16th. During their current win streak, they have handily dispensed with the Heat, Lakers, and Bulls. Yesterday, the went toe-to-toe with the best defensive team in the league and positively destroyed them. Anyone watching that game couldn’t help but come away with the notion that the Thunder are the most dangerous team in the league right now. The Grizzlies are 0-2 against them this season after taking them to 7 games in the playoffs last spring. This is the final regular season matchup between them.
For Memphis to win, they will need to do a number of things that they seem to have been struggling with lately. First, they need to get back to playing great team defense. Grit & Grind relies on this, as it is the impetus for their ability to create turnovers, rebound, and score on easy transition opportunities. Next, they need to stop taking so many perimeter shots. The Grizzlies are decidedly not a 3-point shooting team, so they need to quit acting like they are. It’s frustrating to watch them take 3′s early in the shot-clock, no matter how open they happen to be. And if O.J. Mayo takes one more three in transition, I’m gonna consider knee-capping him myself. Finally, they are going to have to go back to playing fundamental, half-court basketball on offense. Play inside-out, work the ball through the post, drive-and-kick, and take advantage of mismatches.
For the Thunder to win….they only need to keep doing what they’ve been doing for the past few weeks. They are hitting on all cylinders right now, and the duo of Westbrook and Durant are virtually unstoppable. When Harden is on too, this team simply cannot be beaten.
Prediction: Grizzlies lose yet another close one to the team that should become their biggest rival over the next few seasons.