A streaking Oklahoma City Thunder collective seeks a fifth consecutive win tonight opposite the defensively-inclined Memphis Grizzlies from the FedEx Forum.
This evening's meeting between Oklahoma City and Memphis will be the teams' first of the young-ish 2016-17 campaign. Last season, sporting a vastly different roster construct, the Thunder won two-of-three matchups vs. the Grizzlies.
In OKC's lone 2015-16 loss to Memphis, Russell Westbrook exploded for 40 points, and 14 assists as Kevin Durant sat with injury. Overall, Westbrook averaged 24.3 ppg, 12.3 apg, and 5.3 rpg against his longtime conference rival.
During that trio of 15-16 encounters, a stingy OKC interior defense curbed cornerstone pivot Marc Gasol’s usual All-Star numbers. Opposite Oklahoma City, Gasol managed just 12 ppg, and 4.6 rpg.
This season, however, a rejuvenated Gasol has returned to form with averages of 19.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg, and an impressive 4.2 apg. In addition, the 7’1 two-way threat has anchored Memphis’ league-leading defensive efficiency.
While the Grizzlies sport an ineffectual #29 OFFRTG, David Fizdale’s bunch sits at 20-14 by way of a stellar 100.7 DEFRTG.
Even if Memphis PG Mike Conley (toe) opts to sit out a second-consecutive contest, Oklahoma City’s offense will face an imposing conundrum.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
As mentioned, Oklahoma City has won four straight. Throughout that stretch, Russell Westbrook’s surreal line of 36.8 ppg, 11.3 reb, and 11 apg has carried the day. Yet, amid Westbrook’s surge, his supporting cast has offered invaluable contributions.
Enes Kanter (18.3 ppg, 8 reb, 2.3 apg, 62%FGA), Steven Adams (14.3 ppg, 7.3 reb, 1 blk, 1 spg) and the Thunder bench have been paramount in bolstering the team’s four-game winning streak.
Strong performances from the “Stache Bros.” —and others— are imperative if the Thunder are to extend a creditable undefeated run.
During a recent mini road swing, Memphis suffered a pair of double-digit setbacks. Amidst an enervating back-to-back cross country trek, Orlando and Boston proved too much for a weary Grizzlies unit to overcome.
Both Mike Conley and Chandler Parsons sat out Tuesday as Memphis dropped a 113-103 competitive affair to Boston.
Minus starters Mike Conley, and Chandler Parsons (rest) the Grizzlies allowed a staggering 93 points from the Celtics’ top five perimeter players. The starting back court of Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley lit Memphis’ porous wing-defense up to the tune of 45 points.
Although the Grizzlies’ above the break defense has been leaky of late, Memphis can simply stack defenders upon OKC’s sole consistent shot-creating threat in Russell Westbrook.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER KEYS TO VICTORY
- Westbrook thinks pass first
- Stay physical on the interior
- Take efficient three-point shots
- Pressure Gasol
- Outwork Memphis’ bench
INJURY REPORTS/PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS
For Memphis, starting point guard Mike Conley (toe) is listed as day-to-day. Small Forward Chandler Parsons (rest) is expected to return vs. OKC. For Oklahoma City, Victor Oladipo (wrist) and Cameron Payne (foot) will not compete.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
- Point Guard: Russell Westbrook
- Shooting Guard: Anthony Morrow
- Small Forward: Andre Roberson
- Power Forward: Domantas Sabonis
- Center: Steven Adams
- Point Guard: Mike Conley/Andrew Harrison
- Shooting Guard: Tony Allen
- Small Forward: Chandler Parsons
- Power Forward: JaMychal Green
- Center: Marc Gasol
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER: +2
Both the Vegas books and our partners at numberFire view Oklahoma City as slight underdogs for this matchup of middle-tier playoff contenders.
OKC will likely need optimum productivity from both Westbrook, and his running mates, to overcome a stout Grizzlies defense. With Conley’s status in the air, the key matchup to watch will be Adams vs. Gasol.
If Adams can limit Gasol, as he did much of last season, the Thunder’s odds of winning increase exponentially. The Thunder is 8-6 on the road. Memphis is 12-7 at home.