The Big Story
On Monday morning, news that Kevin Durant would miss the next six to eight weeks with a foot injury shook up the NBA world, and subsequently ratcheted up both the interest in and importance of the Grizzlies' fourth preseason game. Coach Scottie Brooks now has the unenviable task of trying to replace the league's reigning MVP; and with just a limited number of preseason games left, you can expect to see quite a bit of tinkering with the Thunder lineup as they prepare to play approximately a quarter of the regular season without their transcendent star.
Much of the burden of compensating for Durant's absence will undoubtedly fall on Russell Westbrook, one of the top point guards in the league who is more than capable of scoring in bulk. Westbrook has only played five games without Durant by his side in the past five seasons, but it's doubtful that Durant's omission from the lineup will result in a dropoff in Westbrook's ability to do Westbrook things. Even when Durant's healthy, Westbrook often plays long stretches as if he's inexplicably forgotten that the second best best player in the world is running right next to him.
Watch for Brooks to lean on Griz-Thunder series Game 4 villain Reggie Jackson to help make up for some of the 32 points per game that Durant accounted for in 2013-2014 with Jeremy Lamb, Andre Roberson, and Perry Jones chipping in where they can. Coach Brooks also stated that he thought Kendrick Perkins was ready to break out offensively, so don't be surprised to see Westbrook feeding the big fella early and often.*
*Kidding... just making sure you were still paying attention...
Man, you know who would've been PERFECT to help out in this situation? James Harden. Too bad the Thunder don't have somebody like that guy.
The Story That Would've Been the Big Story if the Reigning MVP Didn't Get Injured
I'm sure everyone remembers this:
What you probably don't remember is this:
So yea, Steven Adams isn't going to win any popularity contests in the Grizzlies locker room. In fact, I expect that Coach Joerger will strategically decide that both Carter and Randolph need to take it easy on Tuesday. That dirty Kiwi just has a way of getting under the skin of salty vets like them, and considering the way things went down at the end of last season, I think it's fair to say that the Grizzlies feel like they have a score to settle. OK, elephant in the room time: watch the Z-Bo "punch" video as many times as you'd like, but save your comments for another article because I'm not going to debate the validity of it anymore. I've moved on. Plus, everyone - even Oklahoma City fans - agrees that 1) Steven Adams is a punk with no class, 2) if Z-Bo really wanted to punch him he would've ended up in the hospital, 3) that suspension was a joke, and 4) Adam Silver was totally in the tank for his MVP and suspended Z-Bo so his glory boy wouldn't get bounced in the first round. End. Of. Story.
With any luck, after Joerger physically straps Z-Bo and Vince to the bench, he'll go out and buy them some popcorn so they can watch what happens when pointy and obnoxious meets young, hungry, and powerful:
While it's not as intriguing as a Randolph-Adams or even a Carter-Adams rematch, I think there is potential for Jarnell Stokes to get some big minutes Tuesday night, wherein he will show Steven Adams that Memphis Strong is a whole lot different than Aukland Strong. Of course, all of this goes out the window if Adams messes with Marc Gasol. Z-Bo might kill him. Seriously.
The Smaller Story
Here's hoping that Tuesday night is the final time we hear the words "Quincy Pondexter" and "starter" in the same sentence for the foreseeable future. I know his size and perceived athleticism make him a natural fit in a crowded wing rotation, but Pondexter is simply not ready for prime time. Thankfully, nature seems to be taking its course with respect to Quincy's starting spot as he was absolutely dreadful against Hawks on Saturday. There has been a lot of ink spilled over who's going to start alongside Marc, Mike, and Z-Bo, but the only thing I know for sure is that Quincy Pondexter is not the answer to that question. Until he proves himself a consistent contributor off the bench (fun fact: he's never done that except during a stretch when we lost to the Spurs four times in a row), Quincy Pondexter hasn't earned the privilege of a pregame introduction. And don't think that locker room wouldn't notice: if Q-Pon is starting above Courtney Lee, one of two World Champions, or an eight-time All-Star, you might see a full-fledged revolt.
Limited minutes and some DNP-CD's for the starters plus a Russell Westbrook explosion equals a long night for the Griz at the 'Peake. The artificial fan noise will be deafening as Russ goes off for 40+ against
Luke Hancock Kalin Lucas. Jarnell Stokes' one-game suspension for breaking Steven Adams' nose keeps him out against Brazil's Flamengo club in Memphis on Friday.
Oklahoma City 97, Memphis 75