Oklahoma City finish their home-stand against the Grizzlies
Oklahoma City come into tonight’s game against the Grizzlies off a brilliant win against the Clippers. In that game, the Thunder again came back from a large deficit to beat their opponent, the key difference is that the Clippers are a team with legitimate title aspirations unlike the Bulls or Grizzlies. Oklahoma City have performed brilliantly over the last few weeks and the team is putting together a convincing case for the play-offs. The Grizzlies come into this game after being starched by the San Antonio Spurs, Memphis lost by thirty as the Spurs scored 145 points, It was an abject defensive performance and the Grizzlies will be looking to bounce back from this game. The tie starts at 8:00 (EST) and will be another chance for the Thunder to keep the momentum rolling.
Three Points to Note for the Thunder:
- Dennis the Gamer - Dennis Schroder turned in an outstanding performance against the Clippers where he notched twenty eight points but it was how he accumulated these points which was impressive to me. Schroder scored fourteen points in the final four minutes of the game which put the game away for the Thunder, the Clippers could not close the distance while Dennis was giving them buckets. Schroder’s effort on defence and offence was really important in establishing an unassailable lead for the Thunder. It does feel like Dennis’ game has changed for the better this season and it feels like he is playing with a lot more maturity. There has been less wildness in his game, in the past Dennis would chase games taking ill-advised shots and turning the ball over. He has been better in pressure situations in terms of making the right decision on offence. His strong performances have rewarded Donovan’s faith in the three-guard lineup.
- Steven Adams’ Force - Steven Adams has played really well over the last ten games and there has been noticeable growth in his game as a basketball player. He is now comfortable running the offence but the one aspect of his game which has stood out to me is his confidence. Adams looks like he trusts his skills again and this was noticeable as he rag-dolled the Clippers. It is almost as if Steven Adams has remembered that he a tough cover on defence because of his physicality and technical skills, I like to think he realised this fact as he beat the Clippers’ big men time and time again. He was too technical for Zubac to deal with and too tall for Harrell to guard effectively. As Adams notched 20/17 with three steals, he was brimming with confidence as he explored rarely used aspects of his game like a right-hand kisser layup that bounced sweetly into the rim. Providing that Adams asserts himself on offence, he is a real problem for the rest of the league as there are very few players who can match up with him physically in an era where every team has downsized in favour of speed. I fully expect a big game against the Grizzlies tonight as the confidence will be flowing for Steve.
- Donovan’s Coaching Challenges - The coaching challenge has been somewhat maligned since its introduction at the start of the season as it has inherent flaws. The most glaring flaw is that it requires referees to admit they were wrong on calls and over-turn these calls, some referees will be resistant to admitting wrongdoing as it could make them look like poor referees. As such, the average rate of successful coaching challenges is just 45% league-wide. Donovan is anomalous to the rest of the coaches around the league as his rate of success is at 55.5%. Billy Donovan has made nine challenges and won five of them, I am not sure why he has been more successful than other coaches around the league. The challenges being won have been beneficial to the Thunder especially against the Clippers where the challenge win turned a potential nine-point deficit to just four points with the ball in Thunder hands.
- Ja Morant - Ja Morant has been really good to start his NBA career and has put himself in prime position to win Rookie of the Year. There was a belief before the season that Zion Williamson would have the trophy locked up before December and Morant would be a distant second. Williamson being injured for an extended period of time has meant Morant has moved into pole position for this honour, the only player with a credible case at the moment would be Kendrick Nunn of the Miami Heat. Morant has looked electric with the Grizzlies as he makes the right play on offence more often than not and is more than willing to throw down thunderous dunks. His dunk attempt on Kevin Love the other night was wicked and it felt like his entry in the small club of hyper-athletic guards who dunk the hell out of the ball.
- Iggy - Andre Iguodala is a member of the Memphis Grizzlies but you would not know this fact tuning into a Grizzlies game on a random Thursday night. Iguodala was acquired from the Warriors as a casualty of Golden State’s salary cap issues, it was impossible to find space for Iguodala’s $16m among four maximum contract deals. Iguodala has not joined the team throughout the season and is waiting to be traded to a contending team where he can make another run at the Larry O’Brien trophy. He is one of the few players in the league who could swing the balance of power between contenders. His defensive versatility, intelligence and experience are important factors for a team that has legitimate title aspirations. Memphis’ demands of a first-round pick will likely be met by one of the contending teams but I do not think it will be either LA team or Houston. Those three teams do not have much draft capital to deal. I think Denver could get a deal done for Iguodala with Mason Plumlee going in the other direction along with their 2021/2022 first round pick. He fills the size issue on the wings and provides a young team with veteran voice who has been there and done it all.
The Thunder will go on an East Coast swing for the next two games. Oklahoma City will play Charlotte who have looked surprisingly competent this season. Devonte Graham’s scoring and play-making has been huge for them and the second year player’s growth could be worthy of Most Improved Player consideration. The final game of the trip will be in Toronto against an injury-hit Raptors. The Raptors have lost Gasol and Siakam in recent weeks, two key contributors but Nick Nurse still has a stout-looking team playing good basketball. These games could be banana skins for Oklahoma City and there can be no complacency.