Grizzlies-Thunder Preview: Grizzlies on the prowl to continue their winning ways

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Grizzlies travel to Oklahoma City looking to extend their winning streak to 7, but will be facing the West's best team in a tough environment. Can the Grizzlies continue their hot streak?

2013/2014 NBA Season
at
26-20 (13-7 road)
Won 6
38-11 (20-3 home)
Lost 1
January 20th, 2014
Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, OK
7:00 PM CDT
Fox SportsSouth/ 92.9 FM ESPN
Possible Starters
Nick Calathes PG Reggie Jackson
Courtney Lee SG Thabo Sefolosha
Tayshaun Prince SF Kevin Durant
Zach Randolph PF Serge Ibaka
Marc Gasol C Kendrick Perkins
2013/14 Advanced Stats
92.2 (30th) Pace 97.8 (T-8th)
103.1 (17th) OEff 107.6 (5th)
102.8 (T-13th) DEff 99.2 (3rd)
Injury Report

Oklahoma City - Russell Westbrook (Out, Knee)

Memphis- Quincy Pondexter (Out, Foot) Tony Allen (Out, Hand)

Opponent's Blog: Welcome to Loud City

Key Matchups

Kevin Durant vs. Tayshaun Prince & James Johnson Well, for anyone who didn't look at any sports news for the entire month of January, Kevin Durant was otherworldly for the month - 35.9 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 6.1 APG, 55% from the field, 44% from 3, 89% free throws. In the Grizzlies' 90-87 victory January 14th, Durant got 37 points on 54% shooting, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists. Durant is coming off a subpar (for him) game at Washington in the second game of a road back-to-back, scoring 26 points on 8-21 (38%) shooting. Unsurprisingly for a star of his magnitude, Durant is statistically one of the biggest keys to the Thunder's fortunes. Durant's likely to get his points, but if the Grizzlies can slow him down a bit, it'd be a big help.

Zach Randolph vs. Serge Ibaka In their two meetings this year, Z-Bo has come up with an average of 20 points and 10.5 rebounds but on 36% shooting. Getting some better efficiency while retaining that high production would be a boost to the Grizzlies' chances. On the Thunder side of the ball, Ibaka was instrumental in the Thunder's recent 10-game winning streak, averaging 18.8 PPG, 8.1 RPG, and 3.0 BPG while shooting the ball at a 63% clip.

Courtney Lee vs. Thabo Sefolosha & Jeremy Lamb One of the biggest positional advantages the Grizzlies had in that January 14th victory was at the 2 guard. Lamb & Sefolosha combined for 9 points on 3-13 shooting while Lee went for 24 points on 9-15 shooting, including 2-3 from 3. A similar split in the Grizzlies' favor would be huge.

Rounding into form

Marc Gasol has been a little up-and-down offensively since his return, but is coming off a 19-point, 9-15 night against the Bucks. He's played strong defense since he stepped back on the court, including recording 2 blocks each of the last 3 games. With Mike Conley - who carried the team for much of Gasol's absence - out seemingly at least a few games, hopefully Marc can return the favor by shouldering a large part of the offensive load.

To speak to his defensive impact - the Grizzlies have now moved from 25th in the league in defensive efficiency in early January to now being tied for 13th, and the Grizzlies are now 3rd best in the league (and 1st in the Western Conference) in points allowed per game at 95.2.

Calathes continues?

One big question after Calathes's breakout game is if he can continue his success. I don't mean whether he's going to be a 22 PPG player - that seems pretty unlikely - but whether he can play at a starter level until Mike is healthy. His matchup against Reggie Jackson - who got the Grizzlies for 17 points and 6 assists last outing, but also turned it over 7 times - will be another test for him along the way.

Joe's neat-o fact-o-the-day

While I tend to think of the Thunder as an offense-first team, they are actually ranked higher in defensive efficiency (3rd) than offensive efficiency (5th). They and the Spurs are the only team to rank in the top 5 in both categories, and they are the only team to rate in the top 5 in both and the top 10 in pace.

The Bottom Line

The Grizzlies' recent move into the 8th spot in the standings is a nice moment, but the push to the playoffs has to continue, and without Mike Conley for the moment. If Calathes's recent success, up to and including the breakout game, can continue it will help soften the blow of that loss for the upcoming stretch. That said, it will be a tough go tonight without Conley at the helm. The Grizzlies are coming in red hot - winning 11 of 12 qualifies for that, I'd say - and will need to win their matchups and seize some of that momentum to pull out this game.

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