Game Preview: Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The Grizzlies squeaked out a win against the Los Angeles Lakers Wednesday night. They'll need a much stronger performance Friday night against the Thunder if they hope to leave Oklahoma City with a win.

2013/2014 NBA Season
vs
32-24 (15-10 road)
Won 1
43-15 (23-6 home)
Lost 3
February 28th, 2014
Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, OK
7:00 PM CDT
Fox SportsSouth/ 92.9 FM ESPN
Possible Starters
Mike Conley PG Russell Westbrook
Courtney Lee SG Thabo Sefolosha
Tayshaun Prince SF Kevin Durant
Zach Randolph PF Serge Ibaka
Marc Gasol C Steven Adams
2013/14 Advanced Stats
92.2 (30th) Pace 97.7 (10th)
102.1 (T-20th) OEff 107.2 (7th)
102.1 (T-8th) DEff 100.0 (4th)

Line: Oklahoma City -5.5: O/U: 192

Opponent's Blog: Welcome to Loud City

Injury Report: Memphis: Quincy Pondexter - Out (Foot); Oklahoma City: Kendrick Perkins - Out (Groin)

Memphis Grizzlies Tickets

Attack Steven Adams

It is unlikely that Kendrick Perkins' injury will alter the Thunder's performance one way or the other. His impact isn't really felt when he is healthy. However, they will miss his big body to clog the lane and hack Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph whenever they get anywhere near the rim. Without Perkins, Steven Adams will have to step up and man up on one of the best centers in the NBA in Marc Gasol for the bulk of the night. If the Grizzlies force feed Gasol in the paint early and get Adams in foul trouble, that might force Hasheem Thabeet off the bench, who the Grizzlies would prefer to face more than any other big on Oklahoma City's roster.

Adams' sturdy frame makes him nearly unmovable, but Gasol is crafty enough to maneuver around him or find other ways to score than powering through him. Adams naturally tends to gravitate towards the paint, so having a guy like Big Spain that can step out and hit elbow jumpers could cause the rookie problems. Anything Gasol can do to make him uncomfortable early is advantageous to the Grizzlies.

Mike Conley vs. Russell Westbrook

Fans have only had the pleasure of watching these two matched up in the teams' first meeting of the season, where both point guards faired well. When they faced each other back in early December before Westbrook's injury, Conley posted a line of 20 points on 7-13 shooting and 9 assists. Westbrook had 27 points on a cool 7-12 from the field as well as 9 assists and 6 rebounds.

Given that Conley and Westbrook hit exactly the same number of shots from the field that game, it is obvious that the scoring discrepancy between the two came from free throws. Westbrook was 11/11 from the free throw line. Driving to the rim and drawing contact has always been a huge part of Russ's game, and Conley will have to do his best to cut off the explosive Westbrook without fouling. Of course, a lot of that is up to the referees. The Grizzlies will hope that the refs swallow their whistles and let weak contact go, or it could be a long night for them.

Since Westbrook's return, the Thunder are 0-3. Of course, that blame cannot solely be thrust upon Westbrook. Oklahoma City performed poorly in all three games, and even the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers beat them handily in the team's last game. The Thunder have not lost four in a row since the team relocated from Seattle, so there might be a little extra something riding on Friday night's game for the home team.

It wouldn't be surprising to see the Grizzlies offense rely heavily on the pick and roll against the Thunder to free Conley from Westbrook and give him space to create or square up for an open look at the rim. The defensive rotations and switches from Oklahoma City have been brutal these last several games, so forcing multiple switches by utilizing the pick and roll might be a sound strategy while the Thunder are still adjusting to life with Russ again.

Limit Scoring of Everybody Not Named Durant or Westbrook

It's no secret that Durant and Westbrook are two of the best scorers in the NBA. They are going to "get theirs." There is no way around that. However, if the Grizzlies are able to limit the scoring from the rest of the Thunder, they stand a much better chance of winning this game and splitting the season series. If Durant and Westbrook combine for 50+ points, the Grizzlies can't afford a third Thunder player to score a lot of points. Although the best Grizzlies defenders will be tasked with locking down Durant and Westbrook all night, shutting down everyone else is equally as important.

Final Prediction

I have a really hard time believing this talented Thunder team will lose four games in a row for the first time since moving to Oklahoma City in 2008. However, the Grizzlies are catching the Thunder at the perfect time. Head Coach Scott Brooks is still figuring out how to implement Westbrook back into the lineup, Russ is still working his way back into game shape, Adams will draw one of the toughest assignments of his young career in Gasol, and the Thunder are frustrated at losing three straight, possibly causing them to force things. Marc Gasol will take full advantage of going against a young blood like Adams. The Grizzlies will get just enough offense and continue their run of staunch defense to help them walk out of "Loud City" with a win.

Final Score: Memphis 93, Oklahoma City 88

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