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2012-2013 Game 9 Preview: Thunder Gear Up For A Sizzler With the Grizzlies

With the recent news that the Memphis Grizzlies had dominated the Miami Heat, putting their record at 5-1, most NBA fans didn't take notice. The Grizzlies are a team that didn't get a lot of off-season hype after losing O.J. Mayo, and many figured them to be the Atlanta Hawks of the West.

It's an old fashioned post throwdown.
It's an old fashioned post throwdown.

2012-2013 NBA Season
The Memphis Grizzlies (5-1)
The Oklahoma City Thunder (6-2)
November 14th, 2012
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
7:00 PM CDT
Entertainment Sports Programming Network, Fox Sports Net Oklahoma, SportSouth, WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1)
Enemy Blogs: Straight Outta Vancouver, Three Shades of Blue
Previous Meetings: None
Probable Starters
Mike Conley PG Russell Westbrook
Tony Allen SG Thabo Sefolosha
Rudy Gay SF Kevin Durant
Zach Randolph PF Serge Ibaka
Marc Gasol C Kendrick Perkins

With the recent news that the Memphis Grizzlies had dominated the Miami Heat, putting their record at 5-1, most NBA fans didn't take notice. The Grizzlies are a team that didn't get a lot of off-season hype after losing O.J. Mayo, and many figured them to be the Atlanta Hawks of the West. The general opinion seemed to be, "Yeah, they're gonna be good, but they're not gonna be great, and there's not a whole lot of reason to watch them."

But let me iterate this point: The Grizzlies are looking super legit right now. Like, Western Conference Finals legit. I know that we're only about 8 games in, but after their opening night loss to the Clippers, the Grizzlies haven't played a close game. This includes wins over the Rockets and Jazz.

So, what's made the Grizzlies better? For one, the re-emergence of Zach Randolph has done wonders for this team. After suffering an MCL tear that forced him to miss most of last season, his production saw significant drops and he was removed from the starting lineup. But this year, he's getting back on track. His point production is almost back to 2010 levels, and his rebounding numbers are way up.

Secondly, Wayne Ellington has done an able job filling in for O.J. Mayo. I know, "Wayne Ellington? Really?" Well, he's only had one good game, that one being his last. But he's still the team's #5 scorer, and has been more than

But really, the team has come together magnificently on the offensive end. Every single player in their 9 man rotation is averaging 6.5 points per game or more. For comparison, the Thunder had 4 players averaging that amount or more last season. And it's not one of the guys exploding and becoming an X-Factor, either. They all know their roles in the offense, and execute them well. This team has a lot of well-contructed talent, and they don't have a lot of players who have huge holes in their game.

This is in direct contrast to the Thunder, who employ a team of specialists. I know that more people have gotten involved in the offense lately, but there are a lot of Thunder players with glaring weaknesses. Kendrick Perkins is slow. Thabo Sefolosha can't drive the ball. Kevin Martin can't play defense. Eric Maynor can have bad offensive nights. Nick Collison has no offensive confidence. And Hasheem Thabeet is Hasheem Thabeet. I dare you to find a Grizz player who's as flawed as any of the above players in one of these areas. Still, every single one of the Thunder players has stronger strengths than the Grizz players do, and they all cover up each others' flaws.

Nevertheless, the Grizzlies are a team that has several ways of exploiting the Thunder's flaws. They're the leagues #2 team when it comes to steals, and the Thunder are second in the league when it comes to turnovers. Yep, the Grizzlies will be grabbing lots of free points tonight, courtesy of too many high pick and rolls.

The Grizzlies are also no strangers to playing against small lineups. Part of the reason they were able to blow out Miami was because the Heat were afraid of Gasol and Randolph in the post, so they left the perimeter wide open, and the Grizz were able to get hot. Hopefully Thunder fans will get to see more of Kendrick Perkins tonight, because I can't think of anybody I'd rather have bodying up the powerful post duo from Memphis.

If the Thunder are to win tonight, they'll have to get Serge Ibaka going. He's the perfect tool to space out the Grizzlies when their starters are in, and there's no way Zach Randolph can keep up with him beyond 10 feet from the basket. I'd also like to see more of the offensive teamwork that the Thunder were employing early in the season, because Durant and Westbrook can be turnover machines when they're cold.

Defensively, the Thunder need to forget about trapping and guard the perimeter, because any back court player in this rotation can make the Thunder pay for leaving them open and the Grizzlies rarely turn the ball over. Also, Kevin Martin should really guard the small forward position. Rudy Gay is the type of player who loves to work against his man one-on-one, and those are the situations in which Kevin Martin is at his weakest. Allen and Pondexter can shoot, but they're not really iso threats.

Honestly, I could see this game going either way. The Grizzlies are a very strong team with the tools to beat the Thunder on any given night. Really, this game will come down to whether the Grizzlies can exploit the Thunder's weaknesses and conversely whether the Thunder can use their strengths to their advantage. I'm predicting a loss just because the Thunder are still getting used to new personnel, but really, it could go either way.

Prediction: Memphis Grizzlies 109, Oklahoma City Thunder 108

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