WHERE: Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
WHEN: 7:00 PM CT
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN: Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS- NONE (Ed. Note - !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
OKLAHOMA CITY- Enes Kanter (Out, forearm), Alex Abrines (Questionable, back)
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS-
MEMPHIS- Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Chandler Parsons, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER- Russell Westbrook, Victor Oladipo, Andre Roberson, Domantas Sabonis, Steven Adams
Any time you roll into town to take on Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder, regardless of current situation, you should expect a fight.
Westbrook is one of the most passionate and energetic players in the NBA. His elite athleticism and tenacious competitive attitude are fun to watch...unless it’s against your team.
So while Enes Kanter’s injury has made the Thunder not quite as dangerous, especially to a Memphis Grizzlies team that struggles matching up with Kanter, Westbrook remains at worst one of the top five players in the NBA, and at his best he may stand alone atop the NBA mountain as the best there is to offer in the Association.
This Grizzlies team is relatively healthy for the first time in over a full calendar year, and is rolling after three big wins over the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, and a short-handed Denver Nuggets team. Memphis could clinch a winning six-game road trip tonight in OKC while solidifying their hold on the six-seed and inching closer to the five seed in the Western Conference. But if they think it will be easy, they are likely sorely mistaken. In this rivalry, it’s rare for anything to come easily for Memphis.
How to pull off the win?
Keep riding the pine...in a good way.
A major part of the Grizzlies’ recent success has been how well their bench has played. The Memphis triumvirate of James Ennis, Zach Randolph, and Vince Carter combined for 41 points against the Nuggets. When these three players, plus a returning to form (soon hopefully) Brandan Wright, get rolling and play to their capabilities, few NBA squads will be able to compete bench for bench. That doesn’t even include the size and facilitation of Andrew Harrison, or the sharpshooting of Troy Daniels.
With the Kanter injury, OKC is depending on the likes of Anthony Morrow, Jerami Grant, Cameron Payne, and Joffrey Lauvergne to pick up the slack. No disrespect to those players, but Memphis should be able to exploit those matchups now that the talented post scorer Kanter isn’t on the block causing issues either with his back to the basket or in the pick-and-roll.
Create off of dribble penetration
The offensive resurgence of the Memphis Grizzlies really isn’t a secret. The team is converting better at the rim, and from range, and as a result they are scoring more points. Duh.
But the reason for these improvements (alongside an easier schedule) is the Grizzlies’ ability to get to the paint in the first place through dribble penetration. Mike Conley in particular has shown the ability to attack and drive the lane, finishing better at the rim as of late. This collapses a defense, and leads to open lanes for cutters and open shooting windows.
It all starts with the ability to create off the dribble and the fact that opposing defenses must honor Conley’s crafty handle alongside the shooting abilities of Marc Gasol, JaMychal Green, and other Grizzlies. If Memphis can make the right decision to drive and kick/move the ball or drive and finish at the basket consistently, it will be a good night for the good guys.
The last time these two teams played, it wasn’t just Russ who hurt the Grizzlies. Sure, his triple double dominated Memphis, but Victor Oladipo and Steven Adams combined for 28 points, Jerami Grant had 10 points off the bench, and Alex Abrines and Enes Kanter were both +10 while shooting a combined 10-21 from the floor.
The bad news for the Thunder is that Kanter is gone until at least March, and Abrines is questionable for tonight’s game with a back ailment. OKC without those two players got obliterated by the Chicago Bulls at home Wednesday night, and even if Abrines can go tonight, it’s unlikely that he’ll be 100%.
The Grizzlies have won their last three games. The Thunder have lost their last three. Memphis is getting healthy. Oklahoma City is without their sixth man of the year candidate.
It likely will not be easy. But Memphis should be feeling confident and hopefully will be up for the fight.
Memphis 109, Oklahoma City 103