Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder: Game Preview

Conley and Durant are key pieces to their teams' past and future success. - USA TODAY Sports

On Monday night the Memphis Grizzlies secured a much needed win over a hapless Orlando Magic team. The task becomes much greater tonight, as the Bears of Beale Street wrap up their six game stint at the Grindhouse against Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the rival Oklahoma City Thunder.

2013/2014 NBA Season
vs
10-10 (5-7 home)
Won 1
16-4 (6-4 road)
Won 3
December 11th, 2013
FedexForum in Memphis, TN
7:00 PM CST
Fox SportSouth/ 92.9 FM ESPN
Possible Starters
Mike Conley PG Russell Westbrook
Jerryd Bayless
SG Andre Roberson
Tayshaun Prince SF Kevin Durant
Zach Randolph PF Serge Ibaka
Kosta Koufos C Kendrick Perkins
2013/14 Advanced Stats
93.0 (29th) Pace 99.5 (5th)
98.8 (22nd) OEff 104.5 (8th)
102.5 (18th) DEff 97.8 (5th)

Injury Report

Memphis - Marc Gasol (Out, Knee) Quincy Pondexter (Out, Foot) Ed Davis (Day-to-Day, Ankle) Tony Allen (Day-to-Day, Hip)

Oklahoma City - Thabo Sefolosha (Day-to-Day, knee)

More on the Thunder: Welcome to Loud City

What a difference 7 months can make.

Not too long ago, the Memphis Grizzlies were taking on a Russell Westbrook-less Oklahoma City Thunder team in the Western Conference Semifinals. The series was a high point in Grizzlies history, and the clinching game 5 victory in OKC was historic for a franchise that had never achieved that level of success before. Let's reflect on that game, shall we? It may help us feel better...


It all seems so long ago now.

Fast forward to December 2013. The Grizzlies are a shell of their former selves due to injuries to two starters and two key role players. Zach Randolph missed two games due to a toe injury and is still continuing to get used to life without Marc Gasol.

As the NBA world continues to spin, the Grizzlies are struggling to find their footing without Big Spain and Quincy Pondexter for indefinite periods of time, as well as Ed Davis and Tony Allen who are still day to day in terms of injury. Despite a needed win against the Orlando Magic Monday night, the Grizzlies are still trying to keep their heads above water in a tough Western Conference, sitting at 10-10, currently on the outside looking in of a crowded playoff landscape.

The Thunder, on the other hand, are back to their extremely good selves. Led by the tremendous talent of Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka, the Thunder have rumbled out to a 16-4 start, only behind the Portland Trailblazers in the Western Conference. They are fourth in the league in scoring at 104.6 points per game and second in rebounds at 47.1 a game. This Thunder team has two great superstars, a very good player in Ibaka, a developing sixth man in Reggie Jackson, solid wings in Jeremy Lamb, Andre Roberson and Thabo Sefolosha, as well as decent back-up bigs in Nick Collison and rookie Steven Adams. Despite the presence of Derek Fisher and Kendrick Perkins, this Thunder team is deeper and more well rounded than last year.

So, why should the Grizzlies B-squad even bother? Fortunately, games are not played out on paper. On paper, this Thunder squad should run past this Grizzlies team on to a double digit victory. However, if the Grizzlies play within themselves and take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves, they can end this six-game home stand on a high. Here are three ways that this can be done...

Pick the Less Consistent Poison

The Thunder have two Superstar players in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. When they both go off, it can cause major problems for any team, much less the depleted Grizzlies. Memphis has to attempt to shut off the water to one of these guys, finding a way to put them off their game and force them in to bad decisions.

Focus on the more efficient Durant defensively and force Westbrook to make good decisions with the basketball.

The safer choice for this would be Westbrook. Durant's game is so well rounded; he is currently 2 assists and a rebound and a half over his career averages in those statistics, all while shooting very well percentage wise. Tayshaun Prince's length has also given Durant issues in the past, so his length could be negated somewhat if the Grizzlies are able to slow the pace of the game. Westbrook through 20 games is more of a volume scorer at this time; he is currently shooting 40.6% from the field, below his career average of 43.1%. His game, while explosive, is more susceptible to turnovers as well.

Focusing rotations on helping Prince with Durant while hoping Mike Conley and Jerryd Bayless can pressure Westbrook into a half court game of facilitation would enable the Grizzlies to force the less consistent Westbrook to beat them, rather than the offensive force that is Kevin Durant.

Serge Ibaka, Meet Kosta Koufos

During the time that Marc Gasol has been out, longer more athletic centers have given Zach Randolph trouble. DeAndre Jordan and Andrew Bogut come to mind as guys who would have been defending Marc Gasol if he were healthy, but can focus their attention on Zach since Kosta Koufos is not as big of an offensive threat.

Tonight is an opportunity for the opposition to get a taste of their own medicine. Kendrick Perkins, while bigger than Zach Randolph, may have one of the worst offensive games in the NBA. He is likely not capable of taking advantage of that size mismatch. Meanwhile, this would free up Kosta Koufos, our younger, bigger and more athletic center, to guard Serge Ibaka, their biggest post-to-midrange threat to score as a big. Koufos can force Ibaka to score outside the paint and on contested shots in the lane, while negating his ability to rebound to a degree.

Serge Ibaka will more than likely be guarding Zach tonight, so Z-Bo may have some offensive issues at times. Nick Collison has also historically given Zach some problems as a defender. A big night for Kosta Koufos overall will be needed as he needs to take advantage of Perkins in the post and defend Ibaka as best he can.

Control the Tempo

For a multitude of reasons, the Grizzlies need to make sure that the Thunder do not get out and run. They are 5th in the NBA in PACE while also being 8th in offensive efficiency, meaning that they can push the tempo and protect the ball. They also are 3rd in the NBA in fast break points per game at 17.3 according to teamrankings.com; the Grizzlies are 22nd.

The short handed Grizz will not survive a shootout with the Thunder.

Add all of this on to the fact that the Grizzlies are likely to be without Ed Davis and Tony Allen once again tonight, and a short handed Grizzlies team cannot afford to try to gun it out with the Thunder. If there is any hope for a competitive game and a Memphis victory, it will most likely have to be in traditional "Grit and Grind" fashion. The Thunder are the number two rebounding team in the league, limiting their possessions and getting offensive rebounds for easy conversions and extra opportunities will have to be a focus.

Slow the pace, play off the pick and roll, find mismatches and get to the basket or the foul line.

The Prediction

This game, logically, should not be won by the Memphis Grizzlies. The Thunder are playing great basketball right now, and Memphis is almost giving up leads to the Orlando Magic. However, the Thunder is playing on the second night of a back to back. All four of their losses have come on the road. Memphis, while banged up, should be more rested and motivated to end their tumultuous home stand on a good note.

Look for Kosta Koufos to have another big game, Mike Conley to frustrate Russell Westbrook and Tayshaun Prince to give his best effort in limiting Kevin Durant. Jerryd Bayless will have a big fourth quarter and Mike Conley will hit a game-winning lay-up, leading to another Grizzlies-Thunder classic.

Memphis 94, Oklahoma City 93

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