The second round is ready to begin! After only half a week of rest, the Thunder are refreshed and ready to take on the Memphis Grizzlies, only the second team to upset a one seed in the first round in a seven game series.
But don't think these underdogs are without their bite. The Grizzlies are more powerful than your average eight seed, having won a solid 46 games. They also improved greatly at the end of the season, picking up Shane Battier at the trade deadline and getting O.J. Mayo back from suspension. Making them even scarier is the fact that they beat the Spurs, who are considered by many to be a hardened playoff team, and the fact that they've defeated the Thunder three times this season.
On the other hand, the Thunder do have a lot going for them in this series. They soundly defeated a Nuggets team that was extremely hot going into the playoffs, and they are only a couple of games out of being the best team remaining in the West. The Grizzlies are without Rudy Gay, who was a huge scoring fixture for them in the regular season, and the Grizzlies have never faced the Thunder with Kendrick Perkins in the lineup.
Below: Matchups, Keys to Winning the Series, Prediction!
Center: Kendrick Perkins vs. Marc Gasol
This is the one matchup we haven't seen, and it will undoubtedly be the most interesting. Marc Gasol serves as something of an X-Factor for the Grizzlies. When he can score above 12 or so in a game, it serves as a good boost to the team. But if he's shut down offensively, the team can quickly find itself running out of options. Judging by Perkins past performances against Gasol while playing for the Celtics, he's really hit and miss. So how this matchup goes could be very telling when compared to game results. Tie.
Power Forward: Serge Ibaka vs. Zach Randolph
Let me put it this way. The best defensive tandem in the league couldn't shut down Zach Randolph. He's not athletic and he's not pretty, but he's got the weight and touch around the basket that makes him such a spectacular offensive player. He never has a bad shooting night (even if his PPG is lower than usual), and his short jumpshot gets him around tough back-to-the-basket guys like Perkins. The key here for Ibaka is to limit Randolph's offensive opportunities, like not allowing him to get the ball in the first place. Ibaka will also need to be a force on the offensive end, and should be especially effective when drawing the slow-footed Randolph out of the paint. Advantage to the Grizzlies.
Small Forward: Kevin Durant vs. Sam Young
Sam Young may not be a household name....and, that's it. He's not really an essential part of the Grizzlies, and mainly serves as an emergency scoring option if Randolph, Conley, and Gasol are not working out. His two best games in the first round were losses for the Grizzlies, which speaks for itself. I wouldn't be surprised to see Tony Allen switched over to guard Kevin Durant, but Sam Young isn't a terrible defender. Either way, both Durant and Young have found offensive success against each other, so expect a good deal of points to come out of this matchup, but for their performances to not necessarily reflect how either team is doing. The Grizzlies will miss Rudy Gay here. Advantage to the Thunder.
Shooting Guard: Thabo Sefolosha vs. Tony Allen
This matchup has been a huge problem for the Thunder, as Tony Allen has scored 19 points or more against the Thunder on three separate occasions this season. In fact, his one nine point performance was the game that the Thunder won, which should tell you how important this matchup is to the Thunder's victory efforts. For whatever reason, the Thunder seem to lose track of him while trying to trap Conley on the perimeter, which can lead to easy buckets for Allen. Since Conley is much more inconsistent on offense, the Thunder will hopefully focus more of their efforts on Allen and avoid the same mistake they've made three times this year. Big advantage to the Grizzlies.
Point Guard: Russell Westbrook vs. Mike Conley, Jr.
There's no doubt that Russell Westbrook is a much better scorer than Mike Conley, Jr. But Conley is a much more level-headed facilitator and a great defender. In the Thunder's most recent two losses to the Grizz, Westbrook had 13 combined turnovers. That's nothing to sneeze at, and it more than makes up for Conley's lack of scoring. So the gameplan for this matchup is simple: Take care of the ball, and don't go all "hero mode" on us, Honey Badger. Tie.
Big Men: Nazr Mohammed and Nick Collison vs. Darrell Arthur
Darrell Arthur used to be the Grizzlies main scorer off of the bench, but with new players coming in and the starting big men taking on an increased role, he's faded into the background a little bit. Since the Grizzlies' offense centers around the paint, he should see a good amount of touches, but Mohammed and Collison are good enough defenders, so he won't be a real factor. Unless one of these guys decides to score, consider this matchup a wash.
Swing Men: James Harden and Daequan Cook vs. Shane Battier, Greivis Vasquez, and O.J. Mayo
Battier's defense is great to have off of the bench, and it worked wonders for the Grizzlies when they had to play the Spurs. O.J. Mayo can function as a third score sometimes, much in the mold of James Harden. And Greivis Vasquez mostly functions as a shooter, but he's not nearly as good from beyond the arc as Daequan Cook. This matchup is pretty even offensively, but the Grizzlies have a huge advantage defensively.
Point Guards: Eric Maynor vs. Nobody
As always, Eric Maynor is the cool head that the Thunder need when Westbrook commits too many turnovers or takes too much offensive responsibility. He'll be facing a bigger swingman most likely, which could mean to easy steals and baskets for Maynor. This matchup might matter more than you think it does. Advantage to the Thunder.
Bottom of the Bench: Nate Robinson and Royal Ivey vs. Hamed Haddadi, Leon Powe, and Ishmael Smith
Hamed Haddadi will almost certainly see time on the floor in this series...unfortunately, it will be measured in seconds, as he is usually brought in for emergency defensive plays at the end of quarters. Otherwise, the Thunder hold the clear advantage with the two vets in Robinson and Ivey, while the Grizzlies have two young players in Powe and Smith that they probably don't want seeing the floor.They can both have their moments, but they don't have defined roles like Robinson and Ivey, and mainly serve as general prospects and time fillers.
Coaches: Scott Brooks vs. Lionel Hollins
Scott Brooks has very defined lineups with very defined minutes and rules, but Lionel Hollins is more flexible with whom he will give minutes and what roles he will assign to each player. There no real huge advantage here either way, it's more of a difference in coaching style.
Game 1 (OKC): Oklahoma City 107, Memphis 101
Game 2 (OKC): Oklahoma City 111, Memphis 108
Game 3 (Memphis): Memphis 101, Oklahoma City 90
Game 4 (Memphis): Memphis 97, Oklahoma City 96
Game 5 (OKC): Memphis 105, Oklahoma City 95
Game 6 (Denver): Memphis 99, Oklahoma City 98
Game 7 (OKC): N/A
Final Prediction: The Memphis Grizzlies Win in 6 Games.
How do you think the series will shake down? Vote in the poll! Post a comment!