LOCATION:FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN
Memphis(35-29) looked like a team ready to collapse down 18 at halftime to the Mavs after losing at home to New Orleans. Now they are considered a dangerous playoff contender again after storming back in the 2nd half to end the Mavs 8 game home winning streak. Mike Conley was huge playing the entire second half and Zach Randolph’s shot with 0.3 seconds remaining gave the Grizzlies their first season series win against Dallas in franchise history.
Oklahoma City(39-22) held off a tough Phoenix Suns team down the stretch to win in OT. Russell Westbrook led the Thunder with 32 points including 13-18 from the FT line and 11 assists to power the Thunder to the win. The Thunder will be challenged to stop the Grizzlies interior game with recently acquired Kendrick Perkins sidelined with a bad knee. Kevin Durant had a rare off game against Phoenix and isn’t likely to repeat that performance. A great battle looms with the Thunder’s powerful perimeter scorers going against Memphis’ interior power.
Mike Conley had a superb second half against Dallas to help power the Grizzlies in the comeback. His 12 third quarter points helped bring the team back. Conley finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds to go with 3 rebounds and a steal. Russell Westbrook matched Conley’s night with an even bigger game. Westbrook posted 32 pts, 11 assists, 2 rebounds and 2 steals. Westbrook is every bit as fast as Conley in the game and with his size and defensive tenacity it doesn’t look like an easy night for Conley.
Advantage: Oklahoma City
Shooting Guards:Tony AllenvsThabo Sefolosha
Tony Allen is known as a defensive specialist who scores off of his defense as much as on his own efforts on offense. Thabo Sefolosha is known as a defensive specialist who scores within the offense but doesn’t look to create very often. Where Allen’s defense is based off of the mayhem he creates, Sefolosha is more of a traditional man to man defender. He doesn’t create a lot of turnovers but he makes it very difficult to score just the same. Sefolosha is a superior rebounder however.
Advantage: Oklahoma City
Small Forwards:Sam YoungvsKevin Durant
Memphis fans can’t feel very comfortable with this matchup. Sam Young has played okay lately but the bloom is definitely off the rose as teams have seemingly learned his tendencies and he hasn’t adapted well. The fake isn’t nearly as effective as it once was for instance. The real issue is on defense however. Young gives up at least 4 inches in height to the best scorer in the league. Young can do everything right on defense and still be scored on at will. If Young struggles early expect Shane Battier to come in quick but that isn’t not much help either. Durant’s had big games twice in three tries against Houston and Battier earlier this season.
Advantage: Oklahoma City
Serge Ibaka’s era as the Thunder’s PF began officially on Thursday, Feb 24 when Jeff Green was traded to Boston. Ibaka is raw but extremely talented if that rawness can be harnessed. Ibaka had a big offensive game with 15 points against Phoenix but Memphis’ interior is a lot better. Zach Randolph hit the game winning shot against Dallas after a huge second half for the Grizzies leader. Randolph’s 27 points led the team but he finished with only 9 rebounds, a rare non double-double for Z-Bo.
Nazr Mohammed has started since the trade from Charlotte but he hasn’t had a big impact game yet. In three games he’s scored 18 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in total. Marc Gasol had 16 points and 10 rebounds in Dallas last night. Also at 7-1 Gasol has a distinct size advantage over the 6-10 Mohammed. Marc has not been that good rebounding this season however and Mohammed won’t give up anything. Gasol will know that Mohammed can get into foul trouble and there is no one behind him so expect Gasol to be active on the offensive end.
Oklahoma City has two big men they feel comfortable playing. Off the bench they have Nick Collison and not much else. However the Thunder are loaded off the bench with perimeter players. James Harden had 26 points against Phoenix and is capable of scoring a lot of points while teams concentrate on Durant and Westbrook. Eric Maynor is a dangerous PG who still has a lot to learn about the NBA. Daequan Cook is red hot these days so the Thunder have scoring off the bench. Memphis’ big man situation is similar to the Thunder. Outside of Darrell Arthur the Grizzlies aren’t comfortable playing their back up bigs. Also Jason Williams seems to have lost some of his playing time in the rotation. Memphis does have O J Mayo playing some of his best basketball of the season and Darrell Arthur is no slouch these days. The key to the bench is Shane Battier however. The fan favorite made huge plays down the stretch for the Grizzlies and should see a lot of minutes against Durant.