Memphisis struggling and struggling in a big way. Rudy Gay and Hakim Warrick don’t seem to be pleased with Lionel Hollins or the Grizzlies front office and you can’t help but suspect this has something to do with Kyle Lowry being traded. That is a huge part of the Grizzlies attack. Defensively the youngsters are routinely getting beaten to the paint and that is especially noticeable at the point where Mike Conley seems unable to stop dribble penetration despite his incredible speed and his backup, Marco Jaric, can’t throw the ball in the Mississippi River since getting married to Adriana Lima. It is still too early in the season to contemplate the team throwing games so they must really be this bad. That isn’t encouraging.
Oklahoma Cityis hardly on a positive roll themselves but people are more encouraged by their combination of youth than in Memphis. Strange since they have won two fewer games than the Grizzlies this season. Maybe the talking heads around the league prefer bad teams spending money to bad teams that don’t. OKC has lost more road games, lost more home games (despite their raucous crowds) and have a worse division record despite playing in an easier division. They do have an impending superstar in Kevin Durant and that gets you recognition in the national press even if it doesn’t translate in wins. Oklahoma City is playing in Dallas on Friday night so they may be a little weary coming into the game which could affect their perimeter shooting. On a side note Kevin Durant may not be playing tonight after rolling his ankle against Dallas last night.
Point Guards:Mike Conleyvs Russell Westbrook
A lot of people in Memphis are talking about how much improved Mike Conley’s play has been of late but few are mentioning Russell Westbrook sneaking into the ROY race. In the last 10 games Westbrook is averaging 18.9 ppg, 6.1 apg and 3.1 rpg. Not bad for a player best known for his defense coming into the league. The one drawback is his shooting which is below 40% from the field and a terrible 21.7% from the arc over that time frame. Over that same 10 game time frame Conley is averaging 14.4 ppg, 6.2 apg and 5.0 rpg on 42.4% shooting from the field and 35% from the arc.Solid numbers for the previous #4 pick in the draft. Thisbattle will come down to defense and Conley’s defense has been porous of late.
Shooting Guards: O J Mayo vs Thabo Sefalosha
O J Mayo snapped back from a terrible game against Tarrence Kinsey and the Cavs to abuse Indiana and their smaller lineup.The bad news isSefalosha is a big defender. The good news is that he is little else. The 3rd year pro from Switzerland has yet to show a good feel for the game on the offensive end but he can defend well. Mayo is fighting for ROY honors and it would be a good time to make a statement against Thabo because it is likely that Westbrook will play Mayo a lot in this game. If Mayo continues to get into the paint and to the line then he should be able to inflict some damage but Mayo has to control the turnovers.
Small Forwards: Rudy Gay vs Kevin Durant
Rudy, it is time to stand up. Kevin Durant has had Rudy’s number this season so far and the two Baltimore natives have a long standing rivalry so Rudy doesn’t want this trend to continue. Durant has reached elite level by the Thunder abandoning their ill thought out plan of moving Durant to SG. Back at his natural SF position he has been excellent individually. Of course the team’s record hasn’t reflected that but when you play on young teams losses are part of the equation. The bottom line here is that Durant scores more than Rudy and more efficiently, rebounds better than Rudy, passes better and is equal defensively (which isn’t saying a lot). Honestly this matchup is more than worth the cost of admission. Two promising young players from the same home town going head to head most of the night is exciting.
Advantage: Oklahoma City
Power Forwards:Darrell Arthurvs Jeff Green
People are loving on Jeff Green these days. Why shouldn’t they? He’s averaging 16.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg and hitting 40.5% from the arc. Despite playing out of position Green has held his own this season and works hard every night. Darrell Arthur has suffered through they type of season one expects from a late 1st round pick in his rookie year and that means a lot of ups and downs. Right now he is on an upswing as he put back to back solid games together before sliding against Indiana. Arthur has scored in double figures 3 times in his last 5 games but only gotten 7 rebounds once in that span.Arthur is not going to be facing a player who has a huge size advantagethis time either so that should help. What won’t help is Green’s outside shooting. Arthur often loses his man when they move to the perimeter.
Advantage: Oklahoma City
Centers:Marc Gasol vs Nenad Kristic
Nenad Kristic did what Darko implied he wanted to do earlier in the season. He went back to Eurpoe to play. Hopefully they will get a chance to talk before the game so Kristic can explain why he’s back in the NBA. Kristic has never been more than a finese center/PF and Gasol should be able to have another big night against the Serbian. What will be important is for Gasol to continue heading to the rim. Oklahoma City is a small ball team and Gasol has to be a force inside to punish the Thunder if they try to do that. What will be tough for Gasol is guarding the paint and Kristic up top where he is a very efficient scorer.
Benches: Memphis vs Oklahoma City
Memphis’ bench has been getting older despite the youth movement going on. With Adonal Foyle joining the rotation of Darko Milicic, Marco Jaric, Greg Buckner, Quinton Ross and Darius Miles Memphis is suddenly full of experienced bench players. Not all are very talented but they are experienced. Oklahoma City is going in a similiar direction with former Grizz Chucky Atkins and Earl Watson joining Nick Collison, Desmond Mason and Joe Smith as the primary bench players for the Thunder. Honestly their bench players are better. There isn’t much more you can say.
Advantage: Oklahoma City