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Grizzlies vs. Thunder: Pregame Primer

Grizzlies vs. Thunder: Pregame Primer



Grizzlies (19-17, 8-11 road) vs. Thunder (24-11, 16-5 home)

TV: ESPN/FSOklahoma
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 8:30 PM CST

Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)

  • Offensive Rating: Thunder – 109.3 (2nd), Grizzlies – 99.7 (27th)
    Defensive Rating: Thunder – 100.5 (9th), Grizzlies – 102.1 (15th)

It’s hard for the Oklahoma City Thunder to win when they are missing Kevin Durant. It’s doubly hard when they are missing Durant and Russell Westbrook struggles like he did in the Thunder’s last game, going 6-23 from the field to go along with 7 turnovers. Had Westbrook played like his more efficient self, the Kings’ game would have likely fared differently.

With Westbrook not being able to buy a bucket in the second half, the Thunder were dependent on Serge Ibaka, Anthony Morrow, and Dion Waiters to keep pace with the Kings. While Ibaka and Morrow were great in the first three quarters, they reverted back to their normal roles of spectating role players in the fourth quarter, turning down several open looks in favor of giving the ball back to Westbrook with the shot clock winding down. After scoring a combined 43 points through the first 3 quarters, the duo of Ibaka and Morrow only scored 2 points in the fourth.

The one positive that can be drawn from the Kings game was the play of Cameron Payne in the fourth quarter. After struggling for most of the game, Payne scored 11 of the Thunder’s first 15 points in the fourth quarter. With the Kings clamping down on Westbrook and Dion Waiters struggling to hit anything, Payne took it upon himself to make something happen. It’s quickly becoming apparent that Payne, even as a rookie, does not appear to be afraid of the moment. And that is an extremely important commodity to have, especially in the fourth quarter, when opposing defenses are keyed in on Durant and Westbrook. That quality is what made James Harden and Reggie Jackson so deadly for the Thunder late in games.

This is the third and final meeting of the season between the Thunder and the Grizzlies. In the first meeting, the Grizzlies beat the Durant-less Thunder while scoring a season high 122 points. In the second meeting, with Durant in the lineup, the Thunder blew the Grizzlies out 125-88. The Thunder looked very Warriors-like in that game in their mastery of the small-ball lineup.

The Opponent

The Grizzlies come into this game with a 19-17 record. If I had to sum up their play this season in two words, it would be consistently inconsistent. The losses this season have usually come in pairs, to be followed by wins that usually come in the same form. There are games where they look like the consistent crew that we’ve seen for the past 5 years, and then there are games where they are getting shellacked by 30+ points. It has been extremely difficult to get a gauge on this team.

Most of the core 5 players on the Grizzlies (Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Tony Allen, Zach Randolph, and Courtney Lee) are all starting to show signs of decline. Allen, Lee, and Randolph have switched between starting and bench roles throughout the season as Memphis has tried to find lineups that can compete in today’s pace and space NBA. Matt Barnes, Mario Chalmers, and Jeff Green all play big minutes off the bench for the Grizzlies.

3 Big Things


Kevin Durant was originally listed as “Out” for tonight’s game, but has since been upgraded to “Questionable” after going through most of the morning’s shootaround. He’s currently a game-time decision. Knowing the Thunder’s cautiousness with Durant, they’ll likely sit him for the next two games to buy him some extra rest for the ailing toe. But if Durant feels like he can go, look for the team to play him.

2. Rebounding

One of the Thunder’s strengths has become a weakness in the last 6 games. The Thunder have allowed 13.7 offensive rebounds per game during that span and were outrebounded in their two losses during that stretch. With the big bodies the Grizzlies have, this may be an important factor in this game.

3. Pace

The Thunder play at a much faster pace than that Grizzlies. Even though the Grizzlies scored 122 points in their one victory in the season series, that is not their game. They would much rather grind the game down and play more of a halfcourt game. If the Thunder allow that, especially if Durant is out, then that plays right into the hands of the Grizzlies.

Thunder Killer – Opposing player most likely to have a breakout game against the Thunder:

Mario Chalmers – True story: When Chalmers was 8, he witnessed his dog, Jabron Lames, get struck down by lightning. The dog eventually died in Chalmers’ arms. The memory of the strike and the resulting thunder clap remained etched in Chalmers’ mind. To this day, Chalmers seethes every time he hears a thunder clap or hears the word thunder. He has made his life’s mission to bring misery to anyone associated with the words thunder and lightning.

When he played Mortal Kombat as a child, he always tried to get the flawless victory/fatality combo against Raiden. He has refused to watch any of the Thor movies. He refuses to run any electricity in his house because he thinks the electricity is provided by the same people who made the song Thunderstruck. To the shock of many Oklahomans, he has never seen Thunderstruck. And he makes sure to play his best game against the Thunder.