The Thunder welcome their favorite sparring partners the Memphis Grizzlies into the Chesapeake Arena tonight. The Thunder are coming off of a necessary win against a shorthanded Mavericks team on Wednesday, while the Grizzlies are starting to roll again, after having defeated both the Denver Nuggets and Atlanta Hawks this week. Despite having lost both Zach Randolph and Darrell Arthur, the Grizzlies continue to find a way to stay competitive, and there is no doubt they will remain so tonight. They have had a very strange run though - they lost three games, won seven, lost four, and then won two. How do we know which Grizzlies team will show up tonight?
I checked in with Tom Lorenzo of Straight Outta Vancouver, and here is what he had to say:
I think the key to look at here is the schedule. Aside from the most recent 2-game winning streak (Atlanta and Denver), we haven't really beaten any teams that we "weren't supposed to beat." Looking at our 7-game win streak, we beat the Kings, Warriors, Pistons, Hornets (twice), Knicks and the Derrick Rose-less Bulls. If you're a serious playoff team, those are the games you're "supposed to win." We then went on the road and lost four straight games to the Blazers, Clippers, Suns and Spurs -- three possible playoff teams in there. We have losses to the Thunder (twice), Lakers, Bulls (with Rose), Jazz... see a pattern here? I wish I could tell you that we can turn it on and elevate our game -- and I'm not trying to take anything away from the most recent wins -- but we tend to struggle against the true title contenders. We have the horses to compete, but often times we miss that finisher. It sounds like I'm being a bit of a downer here, but all I've ever said, since Zach Randolph went down, was just get us to the playoffs with a healthy team, including Randolph. I don't expect this team, as currently constructed, to be able to run with the Thunder and Lakers on a nightly basis. We're a good team, sometimes a very good team, but we need a complete roster to compete. We're good enough to beat the Kings and Pistons of the world without Z-Bo, but we'll struggle against you guys -- though we won't go down without a fight!
Regardless of who suits up for the Grizzlies, they will always play stout defense and so always will be competitive. If we look back at game two, which also lacked Randolph and Arthur, you can see that every quarter was closely played. Memphis has a way of finding guys to step up to take on the additional scoring load, whether it be Marc Gasol, Rudy Gay, or O.J. Mayo. However, the one area where Memphis cannot simply plug in pieces, is in their rebounding. In the second game, OKC had a major advantage on the boards, winning 51-39 overall and 14-10 on the offensive glass. They will need to repeat this performance if they want to come out with a 3rd victory.
Offensively, OKC's main advantage is at the guard position with Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Westbrook had a huge game last time out, scoring a game high 30 points. He clearly understands that he has an advantage over both Mike Conley and Mayo and will continue to force the action. OKC's challenge will be to give Westbrook some better support this time out. Kevin Durant struggled against the Grizz as he sometimes does, since Memphis has in Tony Allen one of the premier perimeter defenders in the game. Durant will need to be more aggressive in looking for shots close to the rim, both compared to last Grizzlies game as well as Wednesday night. If KD can generate more efficient offense this time out, the Thunder should have enough to hold off the Grizzlies.
Prediction: Thunder 100, Grizzlies 92