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Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Memphis Grizzlies: five-question game preview with Grizzly Bear Blue’s writer Brandon Conner

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Five questions with WTLC and GBB ahead of Oklahoma City vs. Memphis

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Recently, SB Nation Grizzly Bear Blues writer “ballfromgrace” and I exchanged five insightful questions concerning our respective teams’ hot-topics, and chances for success ahead of Friday night’s tilt.

While the Thunder and Grizzlies are knotted at one victory apiece in this year’s series, OKC enters the contest on a three-game losing streak. Meanwhile, the Memphis Grizzlies have reeled three-consecutive wins.

This is the question portion of my written dialogue with Brandon.

1) Joshua Broom, WTLC: Memphis has won three consecutive contests, including victories over Utah and Denver. What factor do you attribute most to the Grizzlies' recent success?

ballfromgrace: Part of that is competition. The Grizzlies beat the Jazz in Utah, which was impressive, but their last two wins have come over a bad Phoenix team and a Nuggets team without Nikola Jokic. Those are games that the Grizzlies should win, and (thankfully) they took care of business pretty easily, something that hasn’t necessarily been a given this year. The team has been up and down a lot this season, and the one issue they’ve had is consistency. Hopefully this recent run is a sign of things to come, because it’s been a little difficult watching this team, not knowing what sort of effort you’ll get night in and night out.

2) J.B. WTLC: In an era of "space and pace," how has "grit and grind" evolved to keep pace?

ballfromgrace: This was discussed by a couple of different writers over at Grizzly Bear Blues during the offseason, but Grit ‘n’ Grind, in its purest form is basically gone. Z-Bo has been moved to the bench, and Fizdale has turned the team into a genuine threat from outside. Even without Chandler Parsons playing at a high level, the team has Marc Gasol shooting threes. Mike Conley is still a great shooter, plus the team has added James Ennis and Troy Daniels, who are both over 35% from three. And while the team held the number one defensive rating for a while early in the season, they’re getting it done more with offense than defense lately, which is a sea change from the true Grit ‘n’ Grind Grizz.

3) J.B. WTLC: Did you envision Zach Randolph embracing his newfound sixth-man role in such a near-seamless and efficient manner? In your opinion, how strong are Randolph's chances of being named Sixth Man of The Year?

ballfromgrace: I didn’t, but I appreciated how well Zach handled his “demotion” in the public eye. Make no mistake, Z-Bo wants to be starting, and he still wants to be on the floor during crunch time, but he’s gone about his business like a professional. There have been a few times when Zach, most likely out of frustration with the team’s performance, has commented on how he’s being used, but I think he also respects Fizdale enough not to take some of these rotation decisions personally. It’s a balancing act for both coach and player, and a credit to both Fizdale and Zach for the way they’ve handled it.

As for 6th Man of the Year, I’m not sure. Given his usage, scoring, and rebounding off the bench, I think he certainly deserves consideration for the award. I’m really just not sure how much attention he’ll get from the voters.

4) J.B. WTLC: Memphis has several close victories this season. What do you feel the team's fourth-quarter recipe for success has been?

ballfromgrace: This tends to happen most years. The Grizzlies usually outperform their point differential because they win a lot of close games while their losses tend to be more lopsided. This year’s had more of the same, though lately they’ve put together a few double-digit wins, and I believe their point differential is positive. So… progress! Some of this boils down to the games they’ve won. A few of these close wins were comebacks against bad teams where they underperformed early and had to pull it together just to get out with a win. A few others were when Mike was out, and Gasol was able to carry the team on his own just through sheer force of will.

Apart from that, though, I think a lot of it boils down to style of play. The Grizzlies prefer half-court games, and in close contests, the pace slows down, and they can set up their offense the way they want to run it. Between that (and a pinch of the “experience factor”) they’re just better suited to perform in close games than most teams. They may not always walk away with a win, but the Grizzlies have confidence that if a game gets close down the stretch, they’ll be up to the task.

5) J.B. WTLC: With the season series tied 1-1 vs. OKC, how do you feel Friday night's contest will play out? Bear in mind that the Thunder has struggled since Enes Kanter's untimely injury.

ballfromgrace: With this Grizzlies team this season, it’s impossible to know what you’re going to get night in and night out. When they want to give their best effort, the Grizzlies can beat anyone (they’re 2-0 against Golden State, 3-1 against the Jazz, and 2-1 against the Rockets). But there are times when the team just comes out flat, and they can lose to some of the worst teams in the league. Since the second half of that Portland game, though, the Grizzlies have been playing well on this road trip, and hopefully that’s a sign that they’ll be more consistent moving forward. The Grizzlies will need to keep Westbrook at least somewhat in check, but without Kanter, I think Memphis is playing well enough that they should be able to take home a win, as long as they don’t sleepwalk through the early portion of the contest.

WTLC would like to thank Brandon “ballfromgrace” Connor for participating in this five-question discussion.

Oklahoma City and Memphis tip-off Friday night at 8 PM ET from Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Check out Brandon’s excellent work at our SB Nation Memphis Grizzlies site, Grizzly Bear Blues.