Who: Memphis at Oklahoma City
When: 7:00 PM CST
Where: Chesapeake Energy Center, Oklahoma City, OK
Records: Memphis (29-15), Oklahoma City (34-11)
Media: TNT, 92.9 FM, 680 AM
Forums: 3 Shades of Blue, Grizzlies Message Board
Memphis begins the post Rudy Gay era tonight against one of the best teams in the NBA. It is going to be a tough game. The Grizzlies are 3-1 since the last big trade when Wayne Ellington, Marreese Speights and Josh Selby were traded to Cleveland for Jon Leuer and now must adjust to being without Rudy Gay and Hamed Haddadi and may not have newcomers Ed Davis, Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye. That leaves the team with only 10 players in uniform tonight and Mike Conley missed the last game with an ankle injury. Luckily the Grizzlies will be well rested after having 3 games off since their dramatic win at Philadelphia Monday night.
Oklahoma City returns to home after a disappointing 6 game road trip that saw the Thunder drop 3 games. The losses were at the Nuggets, Warriors and Lakers with wins over Dallas in OT, the Clippers and Kings sandwiched in between. The Thunder aren’t playing their best but even not at their best are a very dangerous team. Kevin Durant is leading the league in scoring at 29.6 PPG and has capable scoring mates in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Martin. Serge Ibaka has grown into a fine PF averaging nearly 14 PPG and over 8 RPG while swatting 2.8 shots a night. The Thunder also will be lifted by one of the most enthusiastic crowds in the league.
Expected Starting Lineups:
Mike Conley vs Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook is one of the more physical PGs in the league. The All-Star is averaging 22.5 PPG this season but is not very efficient in scoring those points. Westbrook is shooting only 41.4% from the field and 33% from the arc. The book on beating the Thunder is to let Westbrook take his shots and deny Durant which is easier said than done. Conley has had success slowing Westbrook in the past but one has to wonder how effective he will be on his ankle.
Advantage: Oklahoma City
Jerryd Bayless vs Thabo Sefolosha
Hard to call this matchup. Thabo Sefolosha is a tremendous defender against most players but he doesn’t get often asked to guard PGs. Thabo isn’t a great offensive threat either so it is doubtful he will be able to take advantage of his height over Bayless. Bayless is getting the start mainly because the Grizzlies have no one else to play as Rudy Gay is gone and Quincy Pondexter is injured. Bayless has teamed well with Conley as a backcourt lately so he is the most logical choice and could confuse the Thunder on how to prepare for this backcourt.
Tony Allen vs Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant is the best offensive player in the league. His range and size make it nearly impossible to block his shots and his quick step and long legs allow him to get to the rim extremely fast when players try to pressure him on the perimeter. Tony Allen has had success slowing him down, as much as anyone can. Allen shared defensive responsibility with Rudy Gay in the teams first matchup of the season and Durant scored 34 points on 12-21 shooting but the Grizzlies won the game. Allen in the past has done much better. Now with a full game to focus solely on stopping Durant maybe Allen can be effective again but the best way to stop Durant is to deny him the ball.
Advantage: Oklahoma City
Zach Randolph vs Serge Ibaka
Rumor was that Randolph and Gay couldn’t play together. Now that Gay is gone it is time for Randolph to re-establish himself as the Grizzlies true leader. However Randolph has been struggling in January averaging only 13.7 PPG and 9.7 RPG. The paint will likely be less open with Allen playing the SF position as no team is worried about Allen taking jump shots. Ibaka can be a force on both ends of the court but hasn’t established himself as an every night player. In his last 1o games Ibaka is averaging only 11.4 PPG and 7.6 RPG.
Marc Gasol vs Kendrick Perkins
Kendrick Perkins is an enigma. He has the size and apparent skills to be a competent Center in the league, especially since he isn’t asked to shoulder much of a load on offense. The reality is that Perkins scowl is far worse than his bite. Perkins is a poor rebounder at only 5.9 RPG and his scoring is non-existent as well. Gasol has been playing like he did at the start of the season since his all-star game snob averaging over 20 PPG and 9 RPG since being left off the team. Gasol was huge against the 76ers with a season high 27 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists and a game saving block at the buzzer. He must continue to play aggressive against Perkins for the Grizzlies to have a chance in this game.
Memphis vs Oklahoma City
Most teams breathed a sigh of relief when the Thunder traded James Harden to Houston for Kevin Martin. The Grizzlies just groaned as one of their major rivals just picked up on of the all-time Grizz killers in history. Martin didn’t have a great game in the first matchup but has become the Thunder’s 3rd best scorer. The Thunder’s bench also Nick Collison and former Grizz Hasheem Thabeet to man the front line and Eric Maynor at the point but the bench outside of Martin is nothing to be afraid of. Memphis’ bench will be depleted but should still have decent firepower. Tony Wroten has become an integral part of the bench play making big plays on both ends of the court and Chris Johnson has provided needed perimeter scoring. Darrell Arthur has become a solid player on both ends of the court but after those three there isn’t much available. Jon Leuer has not shown much in very limited minutes.
Advantage: Oklahoma City