8:00 PM Eastern Standard Time
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
Line: Memphis by 8.0
Opponent Blog: Welcome to Loud City
Injury Report: MEM: Cunningham DTD, Conley DTD, Gasol DTD; OKC: None
The Western Conference leaders head into the matchup tonight with considerable momentum. After completely smashing the Bulls Sunday night, the Thunder clinched their 2012 postseason berth and have come within one of tying their longest win streak of the season.
The only thing standing in the way? The good ol' 28-win Grizz.
The Thunder (now 40-12) have made the top teams of the East look like D-League scrubs. On March 25, the Thunder up-heaved Miami by 16 points. Last night, they continued the dominance by building a 30-point lead on the Chicago Bulls. The tag-team duo did their thing: Russell Westbook had 27 points and Durant added 26 to lead to the team's sixth consecutive win and third straight playoff berth.
Before the streak, Oklahoma City was 5-5 - but now, if they walk away with a win tonight against the Grizzlies, can snatch the league's best record if Chicago loses to Houston.
A win tonight would be a five-straight against Memphis.
Last time the two teams met on the court was on February 3 - a matchup that brings memories back of Kevin Durant hitting a tiebreaking 3-pointer in the final minute of the fourth quarter. The Thunder won the matchup 101-94 behind Durant's 36 points.
The Grizzlies, on the other hand, are attempting to boost their playoff hopes. Tonight, the Grizzlies play the first of three games in three days and the third of seven games in nine days. The stretch started with a 98-89 loss in Houston this past Friday, but most recently boasts a 99-95 win in Milwaukee this past Saturday.
The game against Milwaukee had O.J. Mayo scoring a season-high 24 points off the bench to help overcome the absence of Mike Conley (ankle). The win Saturday night helped the Grizzlies move 2.5 games ahead of ninth-seed Utah in the Western Conference.
In the win over the Bucks, the Grizzlies got a whopping 51 points - their second highest total this season. This is encouraging for the team that shows notoriously horrible reserve-play. No doubt Coach Hollins wants to see more of that.
Keys to the Game:
(1) Stop the Dynamic Duo. With a combined total of 52.1 points per game, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are currently the highest-scoring duo in the NBA. Remember the Thunder's outing against Denver on February 19? Yeah, it was over a month ago, but the thought still sends chills: the Thunder came away with the win after receiving 91 combined points from Durant and Westbrook. On ten separate other occasions (dating back to the start of last season), the tandem have each scored 30+ points in the same game.
What can the Grizzlies do to stop them? The answer isn't so clear. Luckily, however, Tony Allen is present - the player to whom some contribute the success in stopping Kevin Durant in the 2011 Playoffs. Other than that, it's really just a matter of praying for an offensively poor night from both of them. Likely? No. Possible? Yes.
(2) Rebounding. Oklahoma City has traditionally found their greatest success when they have out-rebounded their opponent. On the season, Oklahoma City is 25-3 when snagging more rebounds than their opposition (10-1 when out-rebounding the opponent by 10 or more). The other side of the coin tells the same story: in eight of their twelve losses this season, the Thunder themselves have been out-rebounded.
The Grizzlies will need players such as Marc Gasol and Marreese Speights to step up down low and be aggressive. Oh yeah - an appearance from that guy Zach Randolph wouldn't hurt either. When does he come back from his injury, again?
(3) Rudy Gay. Rudy Gay, mentioned as a Key of the Game. Why? Because the Memphis Grizzlies need him to do something more than he's doing now in order to succeed. That simple.
Rudy Gay is averaging 18.8 points per game - not bad, but not powerful. Rudy Gay, if he wants to lead this team back to where they were at the end of last season (Game 7 in the 2011 Western Conference Semi-Finals against the same team they're playing tonight), he needs to become that powerful player. The team needs it. The city needs it. Rudy: it's time. Tonight is your night.
Hoping they prove me wrong here.
Final Prediction: Memphis 87, Oklahoma City 105
Game Thread will be up and running at 8. See you then.