GAME: Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Time: 7:00 pm CST
PLACE: FedExForum, Memphis, TN
Records: Memphis (3-5), Oklahoma City (8-2)
Expected Starting Lineups:
Memphis – Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Rudy Gay, Dante Cunningham, Marc Gasol
Oklahoma City – Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins
Memphis has lost two in a row after winning two in a row following Zach Randolph’s injury in the blowout loss to Chicago. One might ask, “What has changed?”, but the truth is that nothing changed except for the quality of opponent. After all, the Grizzlies have failed to score more than 90 points or shoot better than 42% from the floor in the last three games after they ran Sacramento out of the building.
The Grizzlies seemed to have lost all identity on offense without Randolph, as others (such as Rob Mahoney) have noted. They are still a talented team, which allows them to stay in games despite looking completely lost in the halfcourt set, but without their anchor and main offensive p layer — and not to mention his primary backup, Darrell Arthur, a quality pick-and-pop player — they simply cannot get it done often enough to grind out a win in crunchtime.
Oklahoma City, on the other hand, is rolling after being the first team to win all three games of one of the dreaded back-to-back-to-back series that is unique to this condensed season. They sit atop both the divisional and conference standings with an 8-2 record. The only thing that hasn’t gone right for them so far is the news that backup guard Eric Maynor has been lost for the season due to a torn ACL in his right knee. Rookie Reggie Jackson has moved up the depth chart to fill his slot.
Two-time defending scoring champion Kevin Durant is amongst the league leaders in putting the biscuit in the basket once again, shooting over 49% from the floor and 40% from three-point range. James Harden looks to be a strong candidate for 6th Man of the Year, as well.
For Memphis to win, they will have to achieve some semblance of cohesion and order on offense. Their defense has been keeping them in games lately, but that will start to falter too if they continue to lose games that they have a legitimate shot at winning. This means the point guards need to drive to the basket more in order to create opportunities for their teammates, and players like Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo need to be more aggressive with the ball in their hands instead of settling for jumpshots. More pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop plays should be utilized.
For OKC to win, they have to keep those Memphis wings passive on offense while taking advantage of any Grizzlies’ miscues on defense or in transition. KD cannot really be stopped on offense by anyone, so they need to get him going early and hope that Westbrook and Harden can keep it going throughout the night. Look for them to continue to be aggressive and to try to get to the foul line.
Prediction: Thunder win a tight one