Time: 7:00 PM Central Standard Time
Place: Memphis, Tennessee
TV: SportSouth, FSOKHD
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1), Newsradio 750 KXL
The Thunder venture to Memphis tonight to once again take on their conference rival, the Memphis Grizzlies. Last season, the Grizzlies actually took the regular season series 3-1 and were poised for the playoff upset over the Thunder before falling in seven games. The future looked bright, but then Darrell Arthur went down for the season, followed by their heart and soul, Zach Randolph, who was injured against the Bulls. Tonight the Thunder get their first glimpse at the Z-Bo-less Grizz.
The Thunder have an edge in talent, but for some reason that never bothers Memphis too much. They have always played a physical game, and now without their primary scoring option and rebounding machine in Randolph, I expect they will play even more physically. The Thunder will need to meet and match that interior physical play if they want to prevail.
The Thunder know that the primary offensive focal point will be Marc Gasol, and it will be interesting to see how they defend him, given that Randolph is not available. Gasol is an excellent shooter and rebounder, so OKC will need to keep a body on him at all times. If they can push Gasol out of his comfort zone at the top of the key, they should be able to minimize his effectiveness and force the sporadic Grizzly guards to keep the offense afloat.
Offensively, the Thunder must take the same approach as they did in the first Rockets game, even if the easy shots aren't as forthcoming. The must resist falling into the jump shot zone, because that will in part neutralize their advantages over Memphis. Kevin Durant must look to score on the interior instead of relying on 3-pointers. I would also look for James Harden to have a big game against the Memphis second unit, but he too must resist the allure of the 3-point bomb and work his way to the rim.
The Grizzlies should be tough, but it will be hard for them to overcome the talent disparity. As long as the Thunder can keep Memphis from dominating the offensive boards and keep Gasol in check, they should be able to pull out win number nine.
Prediction: Thunder 98, Grizzlies 90