Who: Memphis Grizzlies vs Oklahoma City Thunder
When: 7:00 PM CST
Where: FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN
Records: Memphis (45-21), Oklahoma City (50-18)
Media: SportsSouth, 92.9 FM, 680 AM
Forums: 3 Shades of Blue, Grizzlies Message Board
Memphis faces another tough test tonight as the defending Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder come to town. Memphis has already played the Clippers and Nuggets in the last week giving the new look Grizzlies a real chance to show how they have developed since the big trades at the end January. After going 2-2 on the West Coast road trip the Grizzlies returned home to dispatch the Minnesota Timberwolves with relative ease 92-77 Monday night. Led by Mike Conley (20 points and 6 assists) and Marc Gasol (16 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 blocks) the Grizzlies dominated in the paint in cruising to the win. The Grizzlies have 45 wins which is tied for their 4th most wins in a season ever.
Oklahoma City comes to town after losing to the Denver Nuggets 114-104 at home Tuesday night. The Thunder haven’t lost consecutive games since dropping three straight back around the All-Star break losing at Utah, to Miami and at Houston. The Thunder lead the league in scoring averaging 106.7 PPG. They are also 13th in the league in defense giving up 97.2 PPG. Led by 3 time scoring champion Kevin Durant and All-Star Russell Westbrook, the Thunder are 20-13 on the road this season, just a half game better than the Grizzlies 19-13 mark. The perimeter oriented offense draws the attention but the Thunder are also 8th in the league in rebounding with their two bigs, Kendrick Perkins and Serbe Ibaka, providing the muscle inside.
Expected Starting Lineups:
Mike Conley vs Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook has struggled against the Grizzlies this season shooting 41.7% from the field and 30% from the arc but still has managed to average 19.0 PPG. Westbrook is extremely athletic and at 6-3 has a size advantage over Conley without sacrificing speed on the defensive end. Conley has struggled against Westbrook as well hitting only 35.5% of his FG attempts and only 27.3% of his shots from the arc. Conley shrugged off the effects of a slightly sprained wrist suffered at Utah to lead the team over the Timberwolves. Since the trade Memphis has gone the way Conley has gone. When he plays well the team does as well but when he is off his game the team struggles.
Advantage: Oklahoma City
Tony Allen vs Thabo Sefolosha
Thabo Sefolosha is a poor man’s Tony Allen defensively but a threat from the perimeter that Allen doesn’t possess. However that long-range shooting can be negated by a defender staying close. Sefolosha, a native of Switzerland, won’t have someone to guard on the perimeter against the Grizzlies which will negate his effectiveness somewhat. Allen has been the on-court energy for the Grizzlies again this season. Allen has a unique ability to create mayhem on both sides of the court. On defense there isn’t a better defensive SG in the league. On offense there isn’t a more erratic shooter. Allen has probably missed more layups than anyone in the league but his defensive ability usually more than makes up for his offensive struggles.
Tayshaun Prince vs Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant is the best pure shooter in the league and one of the three best all-around players as well. Durant averages 28.3 PPG. 7.9 RPG and 4.5 APG. If he is on his game there is little opponents can do to stop him. Durant is not known as a great defensive player but the pressure he puts on defenders usually costs them on the offensive end. Prince has not faired well against Durant this season giving up 25.5 PPG and 11 RPG when in Detroit. He has scored decently getting 14.0 PPG, 6.0 RG and 3.0 APG but that isn’t enough against a player of Durant’s caliber. Prince had a strong game against Minnesota grabbing 14 rebounds and scoring 12 points. He will need to put up similar numbers against OKC to keep this matchup close.
Advantage: Oklahoma City
Zach Randolph vs Serge Ibaka
Serge Ibaka is the type of player that can give Zach Randolph fits. However, that is true only when Ibaka stays on Randolph. Tall, bouncy and an excellent shot blocker, Ibaka’s main weakness is his tendency to drift away from his man to look for blocks on other players. If Ibaka goes looking for blocks against the Grizzlies he could be embarrassed by Gasol or Conley getting the ball to Randolph around the basket. Randolph’s intelligence and timing allows him to get great rebounding position against the taller and more athletic Ibaka. Don’t be surprised if OKC moves Perkins over on Randolph to negate that positive for Randolph.
Marc Gasol vs Kendrick Perkins
Marc Gasol has emerged from the shadow of Rudy Gay and Z-Bo to become one of the best bigs in the game the last few months. In March Gasol is averaging 17.3 PPG and 4.9 APG but only 6.8 RPG as Gasol uses his bulk more to shield potential rebounders allowing his teammates to get the ball. Gasol has combined his scoring with a more efficient shooting percentage as well hitting 56.9% of his shots from the field. Gasol is also effective at the line hitting 85.8% of his FT attempts. Perkins is better known for his scowl than his game but he does what the coach and his teammates need. The enforcer in the paint, what Perkins lacks in skill he more than makes up for in intensity and toughness.
Kevin Martin has been a Grizz killer from Sacramento to Houston and now in OKC. His unusual shot allows him to get to the line often and despite an yet is very effective from the perimeter as well. Martin has been struggling this month averaging only 11.1 PPG on 38.7% shooting but none of that matters when he plays the Grizzlies. Martin has a distinct size advantage over Jerryd Bayless too. Nick Collison leads an otherwise undistinguished bench for OKC. Former Grizz Hasheem Thabeet is playing well for OKC where he only needs to play defense in short stints to make an impact. Memphis’ bench is improving but is still a problem for the Grizzlies. Led by Jerryd Bayless, Quincy Pondexter and Ed Davis the bench looks good on paper but is struggling as a unit. When they are on their game they can change momentum but the bench more often than not changes momentum in a negative way lately.
Advantage: Oklahoma City