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Thunder vs. Grizzlies Pre-Season Preview: A whole new meaning of ugly

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Two defense-first clubs bring the grind.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder
I love watching these two uniform combos head to head.
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the fourth game of the Thunder’s 2016 Pre-Season campaign, as we get closer and closer to opening night. The theme for this pre-season so far has been trying out the new acquisitions, and figuring out how to integrate them into the Thunder’s offense. Solutions don’t seem to be apparent at the moment. But this first half will give us another solid litmus test as to where the Thunder are going to land this season. This will be the Thunder’s yearly pre-season game held in Tulsa, the second biggest city in Oklahoma. The game has always sold out in the past, and Tulsa definitely deserve props for consistently showing the Thunder solid support.

Does Memphis still work?

The Memphis Grizzlies are coming off of one of the most injury-plagued seasons in recent memory. Watching Memphis field a 8 man roster during last year’s NBA Playoffs wasn’t very fun. Especially as they Memphis was being demolished by the San Antonio Spurs. The Grizzlies have deep playoff expectations for their old roster. But the Grizzlies also have no cap space with which to attract free agents. So Grizz upper management decided to make a change in focus. Out is old coach Dave Joerger, and in is the heavily bespectacled David Tisdale. Tisdale comes from Miami, where he was coached by the perimeter-focused Erik Spoelstra.

But can the Grizz roster adjust? The big off-season addition was Chandler Parsons. Parsons signed with the Grizzlies as a free agent in the off-season. Parsons is the prototypical three and D forward. On the defensive end, Parsons length will add to an already fearsome Grizzlies lineup. On the offensive end, Parsons is quick without the ball, and has a quick shot release. In theory, he works perfectly with the Grizzlies.

Wade Baldwin IV, the Grizz’ draft pick, brings more questions than answers. But Baldwin is indicative of the direction that Memphis wants to go. Baldwin has the tools to be good defensively, as with Grizzlies players in the past. But on offense, Baldwin is primarily a three point shooter. Memphis has relied on a lot of off-dribble creators and athletic players in the past. Now, they may focus on a more pace and space game.

It’s hard to transform the Grizzlies as they’re currently constructed, though. The team is filled with a bunch of defensively focused forwards and wings, with Gasol, Randolph, and Conley as the centerpieces. But that core is so old at this point. Gasol, Randolph, and Conley don’t bring the defensive force they once did. And you’d be insane to think that all three can stay healthy. This leads me to be skeptical at the thought of the Grizzlies with a winning record. There’s no star power to generate points, and there’s no depth at the big man positions. Sure, Parsons provides a bit more spacing than the team had. But the Grizzlies still feel largely directionless without their big three.

As far as tonight goes, the Grizzlies will reach deep into their roster to cycle through all of their players. As mentioned before, Wade Baldwin IV will be the main name to watch. But it’s also worth of keeping track of Zach Randolph’s adventures at the three point line. Z-Bo went 4 of 6 from three against the 76ers.

Also, look for D.J. Stephens. All you need to know is in this video of his Alley-oop from the Grizzlies game on Monday against the Magic. Not only is it impressive looking, it’s the only surviving YouTube footage of this pre-season game.

The Thunder trudge on

The Thunder have had a difficult Pre-Season. Perhaps not more difficult than the injury-plagued 2014 Pre-Season, but frustrating nonetheless. Two different European teams were able to hit three after three against OKC. Then, the Thunder got smashed by the Mavs starters in the first half.

On top of all this, problems seem more apparent than solutions. No individual player appears to possess the talent to be a consistent second scorer for the team. Oladipo will score on broken plays, but not within an offensive set. Kanter can score in certain spots, but still can’t generate his own shot. And Cameron Payne is out with injury. Aside from a miracle from Adams or Roberson, I just don’t see where the Thunder’s offense is going to come from.

Even Westbrook is looking less effective. Westbrook’s offense has become stale and predictable, as the defense can predict where Westbrook is going to be. And the Thunder’s shooting just isn’t good enough to make Westbrook’s defense-moving plays pay off. But hopefully, this will all be solved by getting adjusted to the new lineups and working within the offense. It’s hard to read too deeply into the first three pre-season games, after all.

At this point though, Memphis is a team with definitively worse talent than Oklahoma City. Across the board, the Thunder have players with more accolades. And of course, Westbrook supercedes whatever Gasol can do by a factor of 3 or 4. So it’s going to be rather disappointing if the Thunder don’t at least show some promising stretches tonight. I’m not really worried about the victory. I’m worried about seeing the Thunder do things that work, rather than forcing their old way. It’s hard to unteach 7 years of being built around KD. But the Thunder’s deep big man core with varied skillsets is something that most teams don’t have. And that’s something that’s got to carry the Thunder somewhere this season.

How tonight’s game will go

With both teams being defense-first, this is going to be more grind-y than usual. I’m expecting it to be fast, ugly, and full of fouls. If there’s more than 10 threes made tonight between both teams, I’ll be extremely surprised. Don’t look for much meaningful play beyond the third quarter. But this second half should at least be better than the farce of a second half we got against Dallas on Tuesday night.

Prediction: Memphis Grizzlies 91, Oklahoma City Thunder 88.

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

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Injuries: Brandon Wright (Questionable), Tony Allen (Questionable), Jarell Martin (Questionable), Deyonta Davis (Questionable), Chandler Parsons (Out), Jordan Adams (Out), Steven Adams (Questionable), Ronnie Price (Questionable), Cameron Payne (Out), Mitch McGary (Out)

Time: 7:00 PM Central Daylight Time

Location: BOK Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma

TV: NBA League Pass