Take two. Tonight the Grizzlies are up against the Thunder, the team that pushed them out of the playoffs in the Western Conference Semi-Finals. Both Memphis and OKC are young teams that are nevertheless considered favorites in the West. This should be a fun match-up between two good teams. There's a good chance that these teams could meet again in the postseason, so we're all excited to see how our Grizzlies fare.
8:00 P.M. ET
The Thunder are coming off consecutive wins against one good team (the Magic) and a not-so team (the Timberwolves). Early into the season, the Thunder have looked every bit of the title contenders that they're expected to be. Against Orlando, they flat out dominated, and the slimmed-down Kendrick Perkins held Dwight Howard to 11 points. More importantly, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were excellent together, playing off one another and setting each other up for several highlight-reel plays. On the other hand, against Minnesota the Thunder looked considerably weaker, but managed to grind out a win anyway because that's what good teams do. However, the Thunder are playing their third game in four days, so look for signs of fatigue.
Memphis is coming off an opening loss, but historically that's par for the course. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies looked rusty and off on offensive and were generally ineffective on defense. Against the Spurs, they gave up 28 points off turnovers, a surprise given that last season it was the Grizzlies who led the league in steals and points off turnovers.
3 keys of the game:
Points in the Paint--Plain and simple, when the Grizzlies dominate the paint, they win the game. OKC features several excellent interior defenders in Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, and Nick Collison. If the Grizzlies want to win this game, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol have to get their points. Further, guys like Tony Allen, Sam Young, and Rudy Gay need to make quick cuts inside. Both Gasol and Randolph excel at hitting cutters, and cutters prevent the Thunder from crowding Zach and Marc.
Rudy's Return--Rudy missed the entire postseason, and his presence was disparately missed against the Thunder, who were able to focus their defense against the Grizzlies' frontcourt without an elite perimeter player. If Rudy gets going early, the Thunder won't be able to focus their defense on the Grizzlies' bigs. In the Grizzlies' first match, Rudy was one of the few positives. More importantly, he didn't appear to disrupt the offensive identity that the Grizzlies developed after he went down with a shoulder injury. If Rudy gets his points while playing within the offense the Memphis should come out ahead.
Bench Depth--The Thunder are strong team that run 11 players deep. Heading into the season, depth appeared to be a strength for the Grizzlies, but quickly turned to a weakness when it was announced that Darrell Arthur would probably miss the entire season. Dante Cunningham was brought in to replace Arthur, and actually played pretty well in his first game. If the Grizzlies want to compete tonight, their reserves have to play well.
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