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Game 5 Preview: Thunder seek to control series with Grizzlies

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There's no way KD plays as badly as he did in Game 4, but there's no way Mike Conley does either. And isn't ZBo due for a breakout game? Questions abound.

It would be pretty awesome if Russell Westbrook just randomly dropped in on sitcom-like situations.
It would be pretty awesome if Russell Westbrook just randomly dropped in on sitcom-like situations.
William Bennett Berry
2014 NBA Playoffs, Round 1

April 29th, 2014
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
8:00 PM Central Daylight Time
TV: National Basketball Association Television, Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, SportSouth
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM/640 AM), 92.5 FM ESPN
Injury Report: Nick Calathes (Suspended)
Previous Matchups: Game 1 (W, 100-86), Game 2 (L, 105-111), Game 3 (L, 95-98), Game 4 (W, 92-89)
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Mike Conley, Jr.
Thabo Sefolosha SG Tony Allen
Kevin Durant SF Tayshaun Prince
Serge Ibaka PF Zach Randolph
Kendrick Perkins C Marc Gasol

Man, it's been a long couple of days in the NBA world.

I'm not saying that to complain, but man, Reggie Jackson's feat of heroism seems like an eternity ago. Since then, we've had some intense drama from all three of the other series out West. San Antonio was able to even their series against Dallas in shaky fashion, while the Trail Blazers needed another overtime to overcome the Harden-heavy Rockets. Meanwhile, Golden State was able to mount a tremendous smashing of the Clippers in Game 4, largely on the back of some extremely racist comments by the Clips owner, Donald Sterling. LA's players were pretty visibly distracted during the game, and the Warriors took advantage. Even the Eastern conference is providing some intrigue, with the Pacers on the brink of collapse and the majority of the bracket filled with questionable teams.

If you're a casual fan, this news has no doubt intruded upon your life in some way. If you're a hardcore fan, it's pretty much taken over your life. Games are running late into the night, and news is slapping you out of nowhere constantly. No one knows who the championship favorites are anymore, with every single series having the potential to effect the title.

Meanwhile, the Thunder really need to get Durant and Westbrook going. Amongst all that news and Reggie Jackson's playoff miracle, KD and Russ combining for 24% from the floor was totally lost. I can't remember the last time both of our stars played so universally bad. I mean, KD's 5-21 (or 24%) mark from the floor was his worst of the season. His next worst night, at home on December 22nd against the Raptors, saw him shooting 31%, or a whole 7 percentage points higher. Yeesh. Westbrook, on the other hand, has shot that poorly this season, but only on four or five other occasions (depending on how you count).

Is that a testament to the Grizz D? Partly. There's definitely an intensity and a physicality in the way they choose to play Russ and KD. Pressure doesn't come often, but you can bet that Allen, Prince, Lee, and Conley will all do their darndest to body up their assignment far beyond the arc. Durant and Westbrook will still get to their spots and get their shots, but it's becoming harder and harder for them to square their shoulders and get in the right rhythm. As the series has gone on, their plays have become too predictable, and the Grizzlies have found the best way to annoy their shots the most.

But, let's face it. With the Thunder heading home and that game qualifying as one of Durant and Westbrook's combined worst game's EVER statistically, this one shouldn't be as exciting. I'm not trying to take anything away from the Grizzlies, but I have no doubt that either Durant or Westbrook will get out of one of their respective slumps today. They've logged heavy minutes, but they're too experienced to be this ineffective for long.

Meanwhile, if this were a Grizzlies blog, I might talk about this being a potential breakout game for Zach Randolph. Randolph hasn't had an efficient offensive night in this series, besides Game 2. There, Z-Bo did an excellent job of exploiting Perk's speed, using his outside shot and driving ability to get past Kendrick. He also got a few opportunistic points off of rebounds and lucky passes. But I'm thinking that Randolph is due for at least one game where he's able to get the Thunder into foul trouble down low and see some serious post success.

Randolph is pretty much the key for Memphis, but there's another major area of improvement to be focused on as well. Conley, aside from his late three and hustle, was a disaster in Game 4. He couldn't seem to hit anything outside of the paint, and, along with free throws, was pretty much the entire reason the Grizz didn't blow out the Thunder in Game 4. I don't think that Conley will get much worse that what we saw, but with Durant and Westbrook bouncing back, things should even out.

Anyway, let's talk about the X-Factors. Reggie Jackson has had two superb games and two atrocious games, so what version of RJ shows up tonight is beyond me. Ibaka has shown some serious quickness and footwork around the basket in this series, and I seriously think he's earned a couple of touches on the block, even as a part of screens. Ibaka's low shooting numbers always seem to serve as a reminder of how simplistic and out of control our offensive scheme is, but you learn to grin and bear it.

The Thunder's bench have all had their own storylines, as well. Nick Collison is as good as he ever was, hitting a corner three in Game 4 and putting in 10-20 minutes of solid D and little foul trouble. You'd wish Brooks would give him more minutes, but c'est la vie. Derek Fisher has been his usual experienced self, occasionally hurting the team on D but usually making some sort of clutch play that evens things out. Caron Butler has been a mess, but I'm tired of talking about that mess, and no one else has gotten significant time.

Who wins tonight's game is anybody's guess, but given just how poorly KD has played over these past two games, I'm suspecting the Thunder will come out ahead. They're also at home, probably stand to see a better performance from Westbrook, and have Reggie fired up as well. Oh, and also I'm itching to see the Thunder have a huge scoring run after how clanky this series has been. O-K-C!

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 111, Memphis Grizzlies 104.

What do you think about tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!