2013-2014 Game 27 Preview: Thunder, with Durant, See Grizzlies

Poor Zach. - William Bennett Berry

The Grizzlies haven't fared too well without Marc Gasol, but the recent addition of Courtney Lee could be enough for them to beat the Thunder.

2013-2014 NBA Season
Thunder_medium
@
Grizzlies_medium
28-9
Won 1

17-19
Won 2
January 14th, 2014
The FedEx Forum, Memphis, Tennessee
7:00 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, SportSouth
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM/640 AM), 92.9 FM/680 AM ESPN
Injury Report: Russell Westbrook (Out), Kevin Durant (Questionable), Tony Allen (Questionable), Marc Gasol (Out), Quincy Pondexter (Out)
Previous Matchups: Dec 11th (Thunder Lead Season Series 1-0)
Probable Starters
Reggie Jackson PG Mike Conley
Thabo Sefolosha SG Courtney Lee
Kevin Durant SF Tayshaun Prince
Serge Ibaka PF Zach Randolph
Kendrick Perkins C Kosta Koufos
2013/14 Advanced Stats
98.8 (5th) Pace 92.5 (29th)
106.4 (T-6th) ORtg 103.1 (16th)
98.2 (3rd) DRtg 105.2 (23rd)

Update (Sherman) Marc Gasol will be playing tonight, according to Grizzly Bear Blues.

***

2-1 with Courtney Lee. That's what Memphis can hang their hat on right now.  But beyond that, the story of this season doesn't describe their situation too kindly. After a slew of injuries to start the season and an off-season regime change, the Grizzlies haven't been able to compete in the tough Western Conference. The team relies a whole lot on consistent offensive production from Zach Randolph and the ability to win the rebounding battle, but that can only take them so far against certain opponents.

What has Courtney Lee brought? Well, he's provided the scoring that the Grizzlies have desperately needed. Jerryd Bayless, his predecessor, could be a decent scorer and distributor at times. But Bayless' scoring was notoriously inconsistent, and his turnovers would often negate his distribution. He did have some good moments against the Thunder because of his great off-ball scoring, but Lee should be able to more than make up for his loss.

The only real downside to the trade is the minutes it allocates to Nick Calathes, the defacto backup point guard. Calathes isn't the best player you'll find out there, but he's capable, and doesn't hurt the team in any specific category.

On Oklahoma City's end, Kevin Durant will be playing tonightThere were some rumors questioning his availability that surfaced last night, but it was just a dog and pony show set up by Scott Brooks. The Thunder have been at various levels of disarray recently, with the youngsters struggling to shoot decent percentages and Durant seeing a larger and larger burden. Needless to say, Durant's absence would have made for the weakest Thunder team since Season 1. Excluding a couple of meaningless matchups at the end of a few seasons, the Thunder have never played a game without Durant and Westbrook.

With Durant, the Thunder will still struggle to win this game. They had a mighty tough go of it against the Bucks last night, and Memphis' tough defense and slow pace should wreak havoc on the Thunder's offense at some point. The problem with the Thunder hasn't been a change in strategy, rather, it's been an unwillingness to adjust the team too much with Westbrook gone. The Thunder know their team is dominant when they're at full strength, so it appears that they're too afraid of losing that to make any radical offensive changes that could take some of the heat off of Durant.

Furthermore, the team has really struggled without a true backup point guard. Reggie Jackson has a lot of responsibility on his shoulders, as the team relies on him to get Serge Ibaka's offense going, take the second most shots, and create offense based on plays that were drawn up for Westbrook. He can't do all three, and he's pretty clearly lost his composure on more than one occasion. The problem isn't so much his failure, but moreso the team's real lack of another option. Putting the ballhandling responsibilities on Durant causes a similar issue, while handing the ball to Fisher is asking for a simplistic, ineffective offense. Thus, things fall apart, and the Thunder have really low scoring quarters.

Thus, the Thunder have had to live and die with their defense. But that hasn't worked either. The Thunder's trap and switch heavy scheme has lost a lot of steam to pass-heavy offenses lately. If your team can effectively swing the ball to the weak side, there's likely not much that the Thunder can do to stop you. Furthermore, the Thunder aren't capitalizing very well on turnovers, with Jackson's offense being much more half-court oriented.

How do you overcome these problems? The solution isn't staring us in the face. I'd advocate most strongly for the signing of a legitimate backup point guard, of which there are many. But that has it's own set of issues, as any new recruit would have to spend time learning the system, and might not be effective before Westbrook's inevitable return. A drastic change in strategy wouldn't appear to be in the cards, either. Thus, the team seems to be content to just ride things out, while keeping their options open if the right trade happens to come along.

Tonight, I'd expect an old fashioned grit and grind battle. The Grizzlies will attempt to open things up in the paint, while the Thunder will rely on their stars to score an uncomfortable amount of points on risky attempts. I doubt either team breaks a hundred, and I could easily see this game boiling down to who gives the other team more fouls or who happens to get hot from three. I'll go with a Grizzly victory just because I think they have more momentum, but the game could really swing either way.

Prediction: Memphis Grizzlies 96, Oklahoma City Thunder 91.

How do you think tonight's game will go? Let us know in the comments!

Looking for some hardcore analysis or silly commentary? Then why not give @WTLC a follow on Twitter?

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