WHERE: Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: ESPN/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS- Brandan Wright (Out, ankle), Deyonta Davis (Questionable, foot)
OKLAHOMA CITY- NONE
MEMPHIS- Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Chandler Parsons, JaMychal Green, Marc Gasol
OKLAHOMA CITY- Russell Westbrook, Victor Olidipo, Andre Roberson, Domantas Sabonis, Steven Adams
Two nationally televised games, two Memphis Grizzlies victories.
The Grizzlies play their third nationally televised contest in as many games tonight in Oklahoma City against the Thunder, and they have got to be feeling pretty good about themselves. On one night, they did the border-line impossible and overcame a 24-point deficit to upset the Golden State Warriors 128-119. Two nights later? They slow it down and grind out a basketball battle against the Utah Jazz 88-79.
Two very different games. Two very similar outcomes. Wins.
The last time these two teams met? Another similar outcome, but it was particularly pleasing to Grizzlies fans because of the way it was done. Russell Westbrook, averaging a triple-double on the season, was ejected early in the second half after being frustrated with officiating. Memphis went on to blow the doors off Oklahoma City, 114-80.
But that was then. This is now.
And Russ is probably pissed.
So this time, in the Thunder’s backyard, the Grizzlies will have to find a way to once again silence Westbrook and his Thunder. How can they get it done?
MAKE OKC BEAT YOU FROM THREE
Are you sitting down? Because the following information may shock you.
Are you ready?
The Memphis Grizzlies (34.8%, 21st in the NBA according to basketball-reference.com) are almost two entire percentage points better at shooting the three-point shot than the Oklahoma City Thunder (32.9%, 29th in the NBA).
Still there? Check this out.
In fact, Memphis has five players who have played at least 25 games this season, played at least 20 minutes per game in those appearances, and are shooting 36% or better from three- James Ennis (41.3%), Mike Conley (41.2%), Troy Daniels (40.8%), Marc Gasol (39.5%), and JaMychal Green (36.8%).
The Thunder? Only three (Jerami Grant, Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis) - and none of them shoot over 40%.
Still with me? Good.
The bottom line is this- OKC must be forced to launch threes. Oklahoma City is excellent at attacking the rim. They rank 4th in the NBA in 2-point percentage at 51.8%. Memphis, by comparison, is only shooting 45.9% on those attempts, which is good for dead last in the entire NBA. For once, the Grizzlies should do to the Thunder what teams have been doing to Memphis for years- clog the paint, close off the lane, and make OKC beat you from range.
NO EASY BUCKETS
If somehow the Thunder do get to the rim, there should be no easy attempt at a lay-up. Oklahoma City is one of the worst free-throw shooting teams in the NBA, shooting 73.3% from the charity stripe, which is 27th in the Association. While Westbrook is pretty solid from the line (82% shooter on over 10 attempts per game), teammates like Victor Oladipo (63.9%), Jerami Grant (59.2%), and Andre Roberson (39.7%) are not as sound.
That doesn’t mean you get in to foul trouble, especially if you are Marc Gasol or JaMychal Green. But if you get beat off the dribble and an OKC player is driving in the lane, collapse on him and make him choose. You either can dish it out to an open shooter, which isn’t a strength of your team (see above) or you can get to the free throw line...which again, not one of the Thunder’s strong suits.
The Thunder are quite good at home, and they will have motivation on their side after the way things went down less than two weeks ago in Memphis. Russell Westbrook will likely try to engulf the Grizzlies in the flames of his rage as he attacks the rim with relentless abandon and blatant disregard for his health. Russ is one of those rarest of players who can look to be completely out of control while having complete control- and those are the most dangerous types of opponents.
But Russ cannot do it alone, and the Thunder cannot do it without Russ. The Grizzlies, meanwhile, have two stars in Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. As Memphis gets healthy, they have multiple role players (and maybe even a third potential star in Chandler Parsons eventually) rising to the opportunities and moments that are coming to them.
That has to count for something...right? Russ makes a point to go off and get another triple-double...but it will be in a losing effort. Memphis wins.
Memphis 103, Oklahoma City 99