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Thunder vs Grizzlies preview: shorthanded OKC looks to avoid further missteps

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OKC didn’t show up in LA, and now they may again be without Westbrook and Anthony.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Update: Westbrook & Anthony are officially out


Tip-Off: 6 P.M. CT

Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma

Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network

Two thirds of the Big 3 went MIA in the Thunder’s 106-81 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday. Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony were both out with ankle injuries and neither of them practiced on Saturday, and are labeled ‘questionable’ for Sunday’s game against Memphis. Without the offensive prowess of both Westbrook and Anthony, the Thunder turned in their worst offensive performance on Thursday. 36% from the floor, 24% from beyond the arc, and turning out just 16 assists will not get the job done, even against this below average Memphis Grizzlies team. Here are the four keys will that get the Thunder back in the win column:

4) Thunder starting 5 vs. Grizzlies starting 5

There will be a lot of star power missing from both sides of the equation. For the Grizzlies, longtime Grizzly star Mike Conley is out for the remainder of the season with a heel injury. The Grizzlies are 11-31 without Conley on the floor. Forward Tyreke Evans also might not be avalabile in tonight’s matchup, making the Grizzlies only reliable scoring option is their center Marc Gasol. For the Thunder, Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony remain questionable until game time. Saying if they are both out, Raymond Felton and Josh Huestis will most likely start in their place.

Overall, the Grizzlies struggle in just about every facet of their game. Youngbloods Andrew Harrison, Dillon Brooks, and Jarell Martin will man the positions on the perimeter. Only getting better with more time on the floor, they still will have match up problems with Westbrook (possibly), Huestis, and Paul George. Down low, JaMychal Green has proven to be a formidable forward on both sides of the ball. Melo has not been your prototypical power forward, but he should be able to score in bunches on Green. The biggest matchup will be between two of the NBA’s most talented centers. Steven Adams against Marc Gasol will be a battle to watch closely all night long as their individual performances could dictate that outcome of tonight’s game.

3) Thunder need to match Memphis’s style of play

Memphis year in and year out plays with an old school basketball mentality. For years, the Grizzlies incorporated a ‘grit and grind’ style of play that still reigns true today. Yes, they may not have the same kind of talent that once brought them to the Western Coference semi-finals a few years ago, but they still go out their with the same kind of attitude. The anithesis to their brand of basketball has been the Oklahoma City Thunder’s kind of basketball they play. Isolated offense, a lot of pick and rolls, and for some parts of this year, not as much energy as head coach Billy Donovan would like to see. The Thunder’s inability to bring consistent energy might have to do with their play against losing teams (like Memphis for example). If they come out of the gates tonight with little to no pep-in-their-step, expect an embarassing loss at the Chesapeake Energy Arena tonight.

2) Thunder’s offense needs to rebound after embarrassing loss

Yes they did not have Westbrook or Anthony, but the Thunder looked flat out terrible in their 25 point loss to a 23-32 Lakers team. The Thunder scored their season low for points in a game (81), shot 36% from the field, 24% from 3, and somehow, someway, found a way to miss more than half their free throws at 48%. George had to carry the load all night by dropping 29 points, but tired late. If George is once again without his all-star teammates in Westbrook and Anthony, role players such as Patrick Patterson and Alex Abrines will need to step up their performances if the Thunder look to avoid being embarrassed in back to back games.

1) Thunder need to take advantage of Grizzlies’ road woes

The Grizzlies have the worst road record in the NBA at 5-20. They have lost 5 in a row and 7 out of their last 8 games, and show no signs of breaking their streak. The Grizzlies’ woes may only worsen as they verse a very solid Thunder team at home. The Thunder on the season are 19-9 at home, and average a little more than 115 PPG, good for 4th in the NBA. The Thunder will have a very loud and supportive home town audience that will help bring the energy on to the court. With the all star break approaching in just about a week or so, the Thunder would like nothing more than to close out the first half of this season on a good note.


Who do you think will win tonight?

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