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This time of the year it is difficult to find a truly objective perspective on the NBA playoffs. You certainly can’t find one among the contributors to 3 Shades of Blue. We are waaayyyy too close to the action to be objective. And there is nothing wrong with that at a fan’s blog. However, to be the best we can at presenting the truth and not just the love, the guys at 3 Shades of Blue wanted to try and find that illusive objective man’s opinion.

Beckley Mason is is the founder of HoopSpeak and a NBA contributor for the New York Times, so when you are looking for a rational, non-biased view of the series between Memphis and Oklahoma City, then you can’t find a better person to talk to than Beckley. Beckley was kind enough to give us a few minutes of his time this week. Here are his perspectives on what is happening in the series.

Grizzlies vs. Thunder:
You predicted, as did I, that the Grizzlies would win the series in 6 games. Are you sticking with that prediction?

I am! Oklahoma City has made it closer than I thought they would. But as I expected, the Thunder coaching staff and players do not look prepared to handle the loss of Westbrook against a team that plays with such sustained and focused effort. The fact Conley has been so aggressive looking for his shot is big, too. I think there are adjustments that OKC can make, specifically playing a bit more small ball, but I don’t know how well the players and staff would do with such a move. They’ve been a pretty straightforward team for the past few seasons, so it’s asking a lot to dramatically switch things up.

Who on the Grizzlies has surprised you the most so far?

Mike Conley. I’m a Conley fan, so I’m by no means shocked by his stellar play. But I’ve loved seeing his maturity and confidence as the stakes get higher. They’ll need it, he’s the only guy on the team who can dribble. Well, besides Bayless. But … well yeah.

Which Thunder player has been the biggest disappointment?

Nick Collison. Count me among the vanguard of Collison supporters, but that Game 2 stinker was ROUGH. He’s so important to their team because when he can stay on the court and be productive, it really helps Kevin Martin, who needs a savvy passing big man to get good looks.

What are the keys for the Thunder on Saturday?

Hope Nick Collison plays well and that Kevin Martin goes off. Also that you can make the most of some minutes with Durant at the 4. Z-Bo struggles in space, and when they have one of Marc or Zach in the game, OKC can take advantage by sticking Durant on the other big.

Memphis backcourt’s dominated in the fourth quarter with Mike Conley (10 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists) and Tony Allen (8 points, 4 steals) an illusion or a problem for OKC?

A bit of both. Conley is a problem. Probably best not to tilt your defense to better address Tony Allen.

Looking Ahead:

What moves are needed to put the Thunder closer to the top outside of Westbrook not being injured or is the team good enough now to win it all?

The Thunder are still in the pole position out West. They have two incredibly creative wings, good size (though I’m sure they’d like to upgrade Perkins), and a reasonable amount of shooting. I love Reggie Jackson, and think he’ll really add another edge for them if they play Jackson and Westbrook together down the stretch next year. Even great defenses will have a tough time containing three guys with great speed and moves to the rim.

Where do the Grizzlies stack among rivals to OKC?

The Grizzlies are a damn good team, and can still get significantly better if they find more shooting. Like OKC, the Grizzlies have a young core and should have some space to maneuver going forward. Not at all unreasonable to expect trips to the Western Conference Finals in the future.

Can the winner of this series make it to the NBA Finals? Can they win it all?

Yes. No.

Random question:

 Seattle likely won’t get the Kings to move there. Do you feel that is the right decision by the league? Do Thunder fans even care about Seattle?

As far as I can tell, Thunder fans only care about Seattle as a sort of spectral evil land full of hippies who wouldn’t spend for their sports team. In terms of “what’s right for the league,” it’s hard for me to make a case that having a team in that market is better than having a team in Seattle’s. Some say it will “hurt the brand” for another city to lose it’s team, but the fact is that for the last 30 years the NBA’s brand has been more about individual players and less about teams. To oversimplify: When the individual players are good and marketable, the league thrives. Do people on the East Coast really give two poos that the Sonics are in OKC under a different name? No, they’re more concerned (as they should be, this is entertainment!) with Westbrook’s fashion than whether the collective heart of a major market was broken 6 years ago. So it’s great for Sacramento that it worked out this way, but I’m not at all convinced it was in the owners’ (who will likely be paying more in revenue sharing to that market than they would to Seattle) or league’s interest to prevent the move.

Our sincere thanks to Beckley for taking the time to share his thoughts with us.

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