|2013-2014 NBA Season|
|February 28th, 2014|
|Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma|
|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 ESPN|
|Injury Report: Kendrick Perkins (Out), Quincy Pondexter (Out)|
|Previous Matchups: Dec 11, Jan 14, Feb 3 (Thunder Lead Season Series 2-1)|
|Mike Conley||PG||Russell Westbrook|
|Courtney Lee||SG||Thabo Sefolosha|
|Tayshaun Prince||SF||Kevin Durant|
|Zach Randolph||PF||Serge Ibaka|
|Marc Gasol||C||Steven Adams|
|2013/14 Advanced Stats|
|92.2 (30th)||Pace||97.7 (10th)|
|102.1 (21st)||ORtg||107.2 (7th)|
|102.1 (T-8th)||DRtg||100.0 (4th)|
Back on March 22nd, 2013, the Thunder weren't a sight for sore eyes. OKC had lost two straight games to the hot Grizzlies and Nuggets, and had gotten thrashed by the Spurs just over a week earlier. The stigma of going 3-3 over a 6 game stretch was definitely getting to them. It led KD to make a statement prior to the Thunder's matchup with the Magic that night:
"We'll get a win in Orlando. Simple. It's a must win game. A must win game."
Even though the Magic were a lowly opponent, those were powerful words. There's no better way to put a target on your back against a motivated young team than to immediately write them off. Of course, KD backed up his words, won the game, and the Thunder ended up heading into the playoffs as the #1 seed.
Tonight, the situation is arguably more dire. The Thunder have lost three straight at home, and will be missing Kendrick Perkins for a significant amount of time. Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook still isn't playing at 100%, and the Thunder's defense has allowed their opponents over 100 points in 6 of their last 7 games.
But that's not even the most frustrating thing. The Thunder have undergone this three game slump while at home, and getting ample rest. OKC had two days to relax before all three of those games, and they couldn't even manage to take their opponents down to the wire.
Anyway, let's get into the nitty-gritty of this matchup. The Thunder have faced the Grizzlies thrice before this season, and won twice. Both of those wins came with the Grizzlies facing injury to a key player, while the Grizzlies win over the Thunder came when they were missing Russell Westbrook. Generally, the games are very low scoring, though the Thunder were able to blow it open during the game Gasol was injured.
As you might know, the Grizzlies use a unique slow-paced offense that makes heavy use of their bigs. The team isn't as reliant on Randolph and Gasol as they were in the past, but they can still punish you if you can't match up with them. The Thunder are generally able to limit Randolph and Gasol adequately, but will struggle without Kendrick Perkins. If the Grizz can get any of the Thunder's three bigs in foul trouble, OKC will likely be forced to go small or play Hasheem Thabeet. Neither option is ideal, but both are situations that the Thunder can survive.
Assuming the Thunder avoid catastrophe in that department, the key to winning this game is valuing every possession. That's a huge cliche, but when you're playing in a defensive battle against the Grizzlies, they're going to milk the shot clock. And when you've got fewer possessions, you can't afford a string of lazy isolation plays, moving screens, or picked off cross-court passes.
The bench hasn't really been a problem against the Grizzlies in the past, but their recent history leads me to believe that there could be problems tonight. Reggie Jackson has shot over 40% only once in the past five games, and Jeremy Lamb has been continually notorious for missing open threes. Meanwhile, Perry Jones III will likely be logging his last minutes as a member of the regular rotation with Caron Butler's signing imminent. Thus, he likely will have a lot on his mind when taking the floor tonight, and might be affected.
Meanwhile, Memphis' bench is looking really scary at full strength. Tony Allen has finally recovered from injury, and will be taking special care to scorch the Thunder as a shooter on the weak side. Nick Calathes, after a rough start, has turned out to be a serviceable scorer. The athletic and crafty James Johnson will also likely be a factor, taking advantage of the attention drawn by the Grizz bigs.
Tonight's game should be a close one, barring a catastrophic injury or exploitable flaw. I think the Thunder will be able to get it done. Just a hunch, but there's no way the Thunder will be defensively timid tonight, and their offense is capable of blowing the Grizzlies out of the water at full speed.
What do you think of tonight's game? Let us know in the poll and comments!