Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Memphis Grizzlies
- OKC regular season record: 59-23
- MEM regular season record: 50-32
1). The Rubber Match - Three years ago, the Grizzlies and Thunder were two young teams, itching to prove themselves in the postseason. The Grizzlies were absent one of their stars, Rudy Gay, but Zach Randolph went nuclear. The Grizzlies lost a triple overtime game on their homecourt and, eventually, the seven game series.
In last year's playoffs the Thunder, absent Russell Westbrook, capitulated to the Grizzlies in five games. Years later, when that series is just a link on a website, it will look like a resounding victory. Even now we may already be forgetting just how close it was. Each game was hotly contested, and could have swung either way in the final minutes (the Grizzlies don't win playoff games comfortably).
All of the main characters are back, and one of them isn't wearing a cast on his leg. Oklahoma City's supporting cast is better, as is the Grizzlies'. Players like Steven Adams and Nick Calathes have replaced dregs like
Kendrick Perkins Hasheem Thabeet and Keyon Dooling. Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones have played meaningful minutes. So have James Johnson and Ed Davis. Neither team is perfect. Both teams hate each other. Both teams feature warriors moonlighting as basketball players.
This may be the last time these two teams face each other as currently constructed. Zach Randolph's future is uncertain. Even the Thunder, if bounced early, could decide their long-cherished continuity and culture just isn't winning enough basketball games, and go in a different direction.
The next two weeks will be a war. And you can't talk about any war, without talking about the generals.....
2). When You Need Your Weakest Link - The unique characteristics of this matchup put demands on the weakest part of their opponent's roster. Joerger and Brooks are in similar situations. For much of the season, NBA fans have scratched their heads at the stubbornness Brooks and Joerger have shown in sticking with Kendrick Perkins and Tayshaun Prince respectively.
But both coaches will find both of these players in high demand for the next two weeks. Perkins - for all his flaws - can provide the interior strength necessary to battle with Gasol and ZBo. Similarly, Prince's length and ability to defend without fouling are vital to slowing down Kevin Durant. Prince averages just 1.6 fouls per 48 minutes. His 63 fouls for the season are nearly half of Tony Allen's fouls for the year (121)... and Tony didn't even play for two months.
If both coaches stick with their much-maligned starters, it could be a battle of which weak link is strongest.
3). Will Scotty Brooks Go Small...
Follow-up question: If So, Will Joerger Go Small to Matchup?
Follow-follow-up question: And If So, Who Will Joerger Go Small With?
Joerger trusts the following players in descending order: Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Mike Miller, Zach Randolph, Tayshaun Prince, Courtney Lee, Tony Allen, Nick Calathes... and maybe Ed Davis or Kosta Koufos, depending on the night, whether the moon is waxing or waning, and if they ate their Wheaties that morning.
It seems clear that James Johnson and Jon Leuer are on the outside looking in this postseason, unless something weird happens. And that's a problem, because Brooks has a powerful weapon at his disposal, one that a certain man with a neck tattoo could help counter.
Thunder small lineups gave the Grizzlies fits last year's series. Thankfully, Brooks didn't realize it until Game 4, and by then it was too late. But Durant has played more small ball this year. Of the top twenty most used Thunder lineups, five of them feature Durant as a power forward. The worst of these lineups scored over 112 points per 100 possessions, which would be the best offense in the league over an entire season. Most scored well over 120!!!!
The Grizzlies want to stay big, but playing Durant at power forward forces ZBo or Marc to guard him, and that is just not happening. Joerger will be forced to match him, and of the players Joerger trusts, it seems like Tayshaun is the only possible solution to this problem.
There is a way to minimize the possibility of this unsolvable problem, and that's by eliminating the necessity for it. Brooks only "found" the small lineup once foul trouble forced him to. Necessity was the mother of invention yet again. I'd go so far as to suggest the Grizzlies not attack Kendrick Perkins in the first quarter so he doesn't get in foul trouble.
Every minute Perkins plays is one less minute Scotty Brooks looks at his 7 foot generational scorer and wonders about playing an undefendable small ball lineup. It's also one more minute where Gasol can do the thing where he disregards Perkins completely on defense, forces Durant to pass it to him, and then recovers in time to force Perkins into a turnover. Gasol has patented this move.
4). Movie Trailermaggedon - every year there's one movie trailer that Hollywood sears into our retinas during the NBA playoffs. Sometimes it's a good movie, and I'm upset that the trailer made me resent the movie before I give it a chance. Usually it's the opposite. I got an advanced copy of the Vegas lines for which movie it will be:
"A Haunted House 2": +300
"Brick Mansions:" +220
RIP Paul Walker.
"XMen Days of Future Past:" +150
The only thing that can make me not want to see X-Men Days of Future Past is seeing too many trailers for X-Men Days of Future Past. I'm a sucker for time travel movies (Want proof? I liked Season Five of LOST). Also a sucker for Jennifer Lawrence. This has to work out, right? Right??? Tell me it will work out?
(Editor's Note: It's gonna work out! -CF)
"The Amazing Spider-Man:" -120
Pretty strong candidate for a terrible NBA/Superhero crossover commercial where Spidey zips between buildings (some of which are actually Roy Hibbert) while dodging Blake Griffin dunks and Steph Curry 3's. Sound terrible? Not as terrible as it actually will be. Let's move on.
"Godzilla:" - 350
GOOOZZZZZEEEEERRRRAAAA!!!! This movie will be shoved down our throats. And it's a shame because Gareth Edwards' debut movie, "Monsters" is really good, and I will just resent this one by 3:00 pm this Sunday.
5). Will Chris Vernon Make a New T-Shirt? The last thing we need is another badass Memphis Grizzlies T-shirt. Wait, what am I saying? Of course we need another badass Memphis Grizzlies T-shirt!
Stay tuned for Part 2.