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Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Game Preview

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Grizzlies come back home to the tall task of trying to stop Russell Westbrook and the Thunder

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

WHO: Memphis Grizzlies (42-36, 23-14 home) v. Oklahoma City Thunder (44-33, 16-21 away)

WHERE: FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee

WHEN: 7:00 PM CT

HOW TO WATCH: Fox Sports Southeast/ 92.9 FM ESPN Memphis

INJURY REPORT

MEMPHIS - Mike Conley (Questionable, eye), Tony Allen (Questionable, eye), Chandler Parsons (Out, knee)

OKLAHOMA CITY - Alex Abrines (Questionable, knee)

PROBABLE STARTERS

MEMPHIS - Andrew Harrison, Tony Allen, Vince Carter, JaMychal Green, Marc Gasol

OKLAHOMA CITY - Russell Westbrook, Victor Oladipo, Andre Roberson, Taj Gibson, Steven Adams


After that heartbreaking overtime loss last night against the Spurs, the Grizzlies have another tough challenge tonight against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Memphis will, fortunately, be coming home to end the season on a four-game home stand, trying to right themselves before the playoffs.

This game will be a difficult one for the Grizzlies as fatigue will play a huge role. Playing on back-to-back nights, especially after an overtime loss, is less than ideal. Memphis is a very impressive 11-5 on the second night of a back to back though, and 6-1 when that second game is at home. This stat is a testament to the team mentality and grit to fight hard even without a day of recovery. Also, in those 16 games on back-to-back nights, the Grizzlies went 8-4 in games in which they lost the first of the two.

The Thunder are of course led by Russell Westbrook, who has been on a statistical tear this season. As you might have heard, last night Westbrook tied NBA Hall of Famer Oscar Robinson’s triple double record of 40 in one season. As I will expand on below, he will be gunning for this record, and he would love to break it in a building he was thrown out of earlier this season.

Here are two things two note before tonight’s matchup:

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

What Should the Grizzlies’ Game Plan Be?

In the closing minutes of the fourth quarter of last night’s game, Mike Conley clashed heads with Kawhi Leonard. He left the game because of the resulting gash above his eye. As all Grizzlies fans pray it won’t take more than just stitches, Coach David Fizdale is faced with a tough decision if Conley is not back 100%. He’s going to have to choose to go at this game with it all (meaning playing Gasol and Randolph big minutes) or reel it back and let the young guys gain some experience as he tinkers with lineups.

This, of course, would mean that the Grizzlies are conceding the race for the six seed. Going into this all important matchup, Memphis is 2.5 games behind Oklahoma City. Unfortunately, the chances of the team catching OKC for that seed are not good because even with a win tonight, they still need major help from the Thunder.

These chances only got worse with the eye injury to Conley. It may be the best idea to ease him back into the lineup without rushing, unless of course he’s ready to go tonight. Plus, as we saw last night, Marc Gasol didn’t play any minutes in overtime, so Fizdale clearly is not rushing him to get regular season wins.

I agree with this call. Settle for the seven seed, and take these games to prepare for the Spurs in the first round.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Russell Westbrook’s Historic Season

I would be remiss if I didn’t devote a section of this game preview to Russ Westbrook and his MVP-caliber season. He’s the one and only threat the Grizzlies must contain to win this game. The only thing about that is, he’s playing at a staggering pace this year. He is having one of the greatest statistical seasons in NBA history. I personally may not agree with how he does it (the man is a massive ball hog), but as a basketball junkie you have to sit back in awe at what he is doing night after night.

Every night we all hear about his triple doubles, but that isn’t what to marvel at his play for. Triple doubles are overhyped because it’s an ambiguous statistic that counts the same for a 50-12-11 game or a 10-15-11 game. So, instead of seeing him coming into this game with seven straight triple doubles, look at the stats more closely to see he is averaging 33.6-12.7-11.9 over his last seven games, according to NBA.com. It may be scarier, but it will give you a better sense of his play than just hearing about his triple doubles each night.

Another unbelievable statistic that should be highlighted is clutch time points per game. Clutch time is defined as time during the 4th quarter or overtime, with less than five minutes remaining, while neither team is ahead by more than five points. He has 230 total clutch time total points and has taken 177 field goal attempts during this time. To put that in perspective, Isaiah Thomas of the Boston Celtics is second with 216 total points and only 130 field goal attempts. That massive amount of attempts just shows how he’s not giving the ball up in close games. The thing is, it hasn’t mattered this year because he’s consistently scoring with the game on the line.

No matter your opinion of Westbrook, as a basketball fan, you sometimes have to appreciate a player’s individual season. Memphis will have its hands full trying to contain him, although it will be extra difficult with that record being just fingertips away.

The Prediction

My prediction is that the Grizzlies will not have Conley at full strength, and Fizdale cuts it back a bit to spread out the minutes more evenly. Memphis will end up losing this game but not because OKC is better; it’ll be because the record chasing and talent on the floor will favor the Thunder.

Spread: TBD This score prediction comes with a disclaimer noting it all depends on Conley’s health. I do think Conley will be playing, but under restricted minutes.

Oklahoma City 96, Memphis 88