WHEN: 8:00 PM CT
WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: FOX Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS- Mike Conley (Out, Achilles), Wayne Selden Jr. (Out, Quad), Brandan Wright (Out, Groin), Chandler Parsons (Questionable, Rest)
OKLAHOMA CITY- Paul George (Questionable, Calf), Russell Westbrook (Questionable, Hip), Jerami Grant (Questionable, Hip)
Memphis- Tyreke Evans, Andrew Harrison, Dillon Brooks, JaMychal Green, Marc Gasol
Oklahoma City- Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, Steven Adams
Call it the Dumpster Fire Bowl.
In one corner, you have the 8-17 Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies took another step toward a top-5 draft pick in 2018 (at least they get to keep this one) with a 116-107 loss to the Toronto Raptors last night in Memphis. It was a tale of two halves- Memphis played extremely well in the first and built a lead, and then in the second half the wheels came completely off. Despite good efforts from Marc Gasol, Tyreke Evans, and Chandler Parsons (who it is assumed will not be playing tonight since he played last night), the rest of the team couldn’t get the job done around them.
And in the other corner, we will have the Oklahoma City Thunder, whose 11-13 record may be better than the Grizzlies but as far as dumpster fires go they may be more raging. Many suspected Memphis may be down this season, and to this point they are what those folks (not me sadly) thought they were, albeit perhaps a little worse. The Thunder, however, were supposed to be a top seed in the west and were supposed to compete for a likely Western Conference Finals date with the Golden State Warriors.
As of today, they are not in the playoffs.
The trio of Westbrook/George/Anthony, while potentially dominant in theory, have yet to click. Russ is having a down year compared to his monster season of a year ago, Carmelo is essentially an average basketball player at this stage of his career, and George may be look around counting down the days until he can go to a better situation. Combine all this with a 2-10 road record, and the Thunder are actually in about the same spot as Memphis as far as missing the mark with expectations.
So, two disappointments will take the floor tonight. How can Memphis find a way to be the team who take a step in the right direction with a win?
Put Andrew Harrison on Russell Westbrook
In theory, the Grizzlies shockingly match up well defensively against the Thunder...assuming they play the way they are capable of on that end (a big assumption). Dillon Brooks has shown spurts of having the ability to stick with wings and bigs alike, so while the star Paul George may win that battle more than he loses, he probably won’t get destroyed. JaMychal Green should be able to hang with this version of Carmelo Anthony, at least that’s part of why he got the deal he got this offseason.
That leaves Russ against...Mario Chalmers. That cannot happen. Chalmers is arguably the worst Grizzly right now and is struggling mightily on both ends of the floor, but especially defensively. To ask him to try to hang with the reigning MVP is a disaster waiting to happen. The good news? Andrew Harrison was inserted as a starter last night and has experience defending these types of players. He has size, and youth, on his side that could at least make Westbrook less comfortable.
Again, Russ will likely get the best of him more often than not. But Westbrook vs. Harrison is more of a fair fight than Westbrook vs. Chalmers at this stage. Rio can defend the offensively limited Andre Roberson and go from there.
Win the battle of attrition
Why are the Thunder 2-10 on the road so far this season? There is a variety of reasons why, but the main issue is relatively simple- they can’t score. They average 98.8 points per game on the road in 12 games so far this season while shooting 42% from the field, 34.5% from three, and 70.4% from the charity stripe. Pair mediocre or worse shooting with limited possessions, and that’s a recipe for inefficient offense.
The Thunder’s strength is defense. They are 2nd in the NBA in Defensive Rating at 102.3. Between OKC’s defense and Memphis’ slowest pace in the Association, this game is going to get in to...dare I say it...the mud. The Grizzlies will have to show patience and mental toughness to pull off the upset here, being aggressive defensively and attacking when the opportunity presents itself to try to get out and run. Every possession will matter, and every point will be necessary to pull this game out.
How can you possibly pick Memphis to win at this point? We are at the stage of this season where sure, the Grizzlies can get a victory if they play the way they did against the Minnesota Timberwolves. But they have won 1 game in their last 13, an abysmal mark, and it appears that this is who they are, at least until Mike Conley comes back.
The pace that Memphis plays at may keep them in it for a while. But the Thunder have too much defensive firepower, too much size, and too much talent. OKC wins.
Thunder 98, Grizzlies 91
Stats provided by basketball-reference.com