After falling miserably to San Antonio on Monday night, the Grizzlies must turn around and play the team that abruptly eliminated them from the playoffs last season: the Oklahoma City Thunder - who some have considered the favorites in the West to win it all.
There are things that could work well for the Grizzlies tonight, and, er...there are things that could work not so well. More after the jump.For the first time since the 2011 playoffs, Kevin Durant and company are battling in the Forum. Attempting to begin the season with a 3-0 start, Durant is starting this season hot - averaging 12 rebounds and over 25 points per game. Throw him in with Westbrook - 28 points, six assists, and six rebounds against Minnesota - and James Harden - who helped with 35 points off the bench in the past two games - and the Grizzlies have a handful.
The Grizzlies hardly looked like the young, thriving team that put them in the Western Conference Semifinals last season in their first game at San Antonio on Monday night. At the end of the night, Zach Randolph could only claim 10 points and 6 rebounds. The Grizzlies, as whole, committed 24 turnovers.
Randolph and Gasol have to make their presence felt tonight. Without an aggressive presence down low, the Thunder will find holes in the Grizzlies defense easily. On the perimeter, bench players will need to step up to prepare to defend against some of the best range shooters in the league.
And, as always, defensive play against Kevin Durant is always the issue for any team when playing the Thunder. The man cannot be stopped - only contained. The Grizzlies will have to play tight against Durant in order to avoid the one-on-one play that makes him so unstoppable.
Rudy Gay, returning from a season-ending shoulder injury last March, played an outstanding first-game on Monday night with 19 points and 10 rebounds. His record against the Thunder isn't bad, either - Gay averages a little over 24 points in his last four games against the team. Hopefully, Z-Bo and company will follow suit and Monday's game was merely the first-game jitters that are lost after the beginning of a long season. In the end, do not allow open shots, stay calm, and, for goodness sake, hold onto the ball! Twenty-four turnovers will force any team in any location to lose a game.
Prediction: If the Grizzlies are able to maintain the pace of the game and hold a close score, they'll finish the game with a victory. Containing Durant is a must - if he explodes for even one quarter, the Grizz have the chance to lose momentum. Before you know it, you're down by 12 in the fourth because of Durant's play in the second. Z-Bo will be there tonight, but Gasol will be a little sluggish. Expect a bigger performance from Conley - he is satisfied with his 11 points and 7 assists Monday night, but he isn't happy. Lastly, OJ Mayo will have a big performance off the bench. He looked good on Monday night and will continue to shine as he fights for that fifth spot in the lineup.
Oklahoma City Thunder - 91
Memphis Grizzlies -------- 96
I'll leave with an encouraging note: the Thunder have lost five of their last six at Memphis, with the three-OT game in the playoffs the lone victory. Coach Hollins knows how to play the Thunder, and he'll coach the guys well. Here's to hoping the Grizz can welcome Houston on Friday night with a beautiful, 1-1, .500 record.
For more on the Oklahoma City Thunder, check out Welcome to Loud City.