1913 Poplar Ave
LOCATION: Oklahoma City Arena, Oklahoma City
MEDIA: Fox Sports South, Soul Classics 103.5 FM
TICKETS: StubHub, TICKETMASTER
Memphishas to face OKC within a week of their stirringwin and the night after battling Utah in Memphis. Not exactly a favorable schedule for the rematch bu then again this isn’t a very favorable part of the schedule either. Still the Grizzlies have held their own during this tough stretch. The victory over Utah Friday night gave the Grizzlies a three game winning streak against three of the best teams in the Western Conference and have brought the Grizzlies back into the playoff discussion. Led by Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay the Grizzlies can match their season high with a four game winning streak in this game.
Oklahoma City has started the new year with a less than enviable schedule as well playing at San Antonio, at Memphis and at Dallas before finally returning home to play the Grizzlies again. This will be the first game in Oklahoma City since Kevin Durant was named player of the month for December in the Western Conference. OKC broke their two game losing streak with a four point victory in Dallas against the injury ravaged Mavericks. That made the Thunder 1-2 on their Southwest division road trip with losses in Memphis and San Antonio prior to the Mavs game. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook lead the Thunder who are among the youngest teams in the league and the most successful of the young teams.
Point Guards:Mike ConleyvsRussell Westbrook
These two former #4 picks in the draft have progressed far differently in their careers. Westbrook easily handled the individual matchup the first time the teams player scoring 28 points and dishing out 7 assists but Westbrook. Conley was respectable in the win with 9 points and 9 assists but respectable isn’t the same as sensational. Conley’s level of play has been decreasing lately as well after a fantastic start to the season.
Advantage: Oklahoma City
Shooting Guards:Tony AllenvsThabo Sefalosha
Another interesting dichotomy of players. Both Allen and Sefalosha are considered defensive specialists who aren’t expected, asked or desired to score. Allen is the superior defender but also the player most likely to try and involve himself in the offense which is not what the team needs from him. If Allen controls himself on the offensive end his suerior defensive ability gives the Grizzlies a small edge. Astrange matchup since themain reason bothplayers are starting isnegated by their opponent. Sefalosha is needed more against Mayo and Allen against Harden so don’t be surprised if something changes here especially if Henry is ready to go after bruising his knee. If Allen starts don’t be surprised to see him on Westbrook more than Thabo.
Small Forwards:Rudy GayvsKevin Durant
This is the marquee matchup. These two products of Baltimore, Maryland have known each other for a long time. Most of that time Rudy Gay was the star and Durant was the one following in his footsteps. Durant is impossible to stop from scoring on the perimeter and the scary fact is he’s finally developing a post-up game as well. Rudy Gay’s offense is still his main strength but he has improved his defense dramatically this season. He’s actually become one of the better man on man defenders on the team. It was Rudy who was put on Kobe to slow him down the other night. Rudy’s defense can be excellent and he can still surrender a ton of points to Durant. The question is will Rudy force Durant to play defense as well.
Advantage: Oklahoma City
Power Forwards:Zach RandolphvsJeff Green
Jeff Green was the prize for trading Ray Allen to Boston. Well technically the 5th pick in the draft was the prize but that turned out to be Jeff Green. Green is considered undersized fora PF but he overcomes that deficiency by extending the range that opponents have to guard him. Green isn’t just a threat to shoot the three ball, he’s been damn effective at it too but not this season (27%).Part of the problem could be that for the first time in his career Green hasn’t been healthy this season. Green has missed 7 games this year which is more than he missed the first three seasons combined. Z-Bo started the season slowly but has been on a tear as he tries to earn a return to the all-star game.
Centers:Marc Gasolvs Nenad Kristic
Marc Gasol struggled with his shot against Pau and the Lakers. That’s nothing to be ashamed of since the Lakers have a strong andtall frontline.However, that continuesastretch of 10 games where Marc is shooting 35.7% from the field. Gasolhas struggled not only with his shot but foul trouble and defensive rotation this season. Part of the blame can be laid at his foot, or ankle rather, since he sprained itright before the start of the season but that shouldn’t still be a problem. Perhaps hisupcoming free agency is getting into his head. NenadKristic shouldbe in the prime of his career at 27 yrs ofage but is declining instead of improving. Kristic hasn’t been the same playerhe waswith the Nets since tearing his ACL in 2006. OKC likes him for his size but he is not much more than a bigbody on a small team overall.
Benches:Memphisvs Oklahoma City
Once again the matchup between these teams take a similar turn. Both teams have a superior offensiveSG coming off the bench in favor of a superior defender starting but both players finish the games. O J Mayo has provided the Grizzlies bench with their best scoring threat since Mike Miller backed up Bonzi Wells. James Harden is capable of reaching double figures with a minimal amount of shots showing his maturity in spite of his lack of experience. At PF the Grizzlies match Darrell Arthur against Serge Ibaka. Ibaka is the better defensive player but Arthur is much more advanced on the offensive end. Both players move into the Center role when the team’s play small ball (which is more often for OKC than MEM). The rest of the Thunder bench has more experience than the Grizzlies which helps the Thunder maintain their pace better.
Advantage: Oklahoma City