WHO: Memphis Grizzlies (11-20, 5-8 on road) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (15-14, 11-5 home)
WHERE: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
WHEN: 7:00PM CT
HOW TO WATCH: Fox Sports Southeast/92.9 FM ESPN Memphis
MEMPHIS- None (No, Seriously...This is not a Joke)
OKLAHOMA CITY- Hamidou Diallo (Out, Elbow) Andre Roberson (Knee)
MEMPHIS- Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Jae Crowder, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas
Oklahoma City- Chris Paul, Steven Adams, Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Terrance Ferguson
Every year, Christmas Day seems to be an unofficial reality check for the NBA. Teams across the league have had enough time to determine who they truly are as a team, and where they truly stand against the rest of the league. With the Trade Deadline six weeks away, many teams start to operate with a mindset focused on the present or the future. This is why trade activity seems to always pick up right around the new year, and why many teams begin to make roster and rotation decisions focused on development or making a playoff push.
The 2019 Memphis Grizzlies seem to be no different, except for the fact that their day of reckoning actually came a bit before Christmas this year. Back on December 16th, when the Grizzlies visited the Oklahoma City Thunder just as they will tonight, Memphis had a record of 10-17. However, due to recent strong play and the lack of quality play across the Western Conference, many were speculating that while a potential Grizzlies playoff push was improbable, it was not impossible.
For the first thirty minutes of their game that night, the Grizzlies showed the reason why that speculation was not far fetched. The Grizzlies held a 91-70 lead with just under six minutes left in the third quarter, and easily were playing one of their best games of the season. However, it was at that point when it seemed as if the clock had struck midnight. In an all too familiar development, the Thunder outscored the Grizzlies 54-31 over the final third of the game. While the Grizzlies again surpassed 120 points in a game, their defense showed why Memphis is destined for the lottery for a third straight season.
This development should not bring negativity or surprise. However, it was a harsh and sudden reminder of where this team stands compared to the rest of the league. The Grizzlies have one of the best young cores in the NBA, and are further along offensively than anyone could have expected. However, the letdown versus Oklahoma City was a reality check that Memphis is still in the early stages of a rebuild. If anyone ignored that game as the tip of the iceberg as to why expectations should be tempered, the Grizzlies loss to the Spurs Monday likely sank any remaining hope fans had for a magical playoff run.
Memphis experienced arguably its worst defensive performance in franchise history. It was the most points the Grizzlies had allowed in franchise history. Furthermore, it was the 12th time that Memphis had allowed an opponent to score a 120 or more points in a game this season. That number is the highest for a single season in franchise history, and the Grizzlies still have 51 games left. This statistic serves as a reminder of who the Grizzlies are: a young and highly variable team who can play like one of the best or worst teams in the league on any given night. It also proves that while this team has played offense at a high level rarely seen before in franchise history, it also is struggling at an historically low level on defense.
The Grizzlies return to Oklahoma City with revenge on their mind. While the Thunder seem to have exceeded expectations themselves so far this season, there are a few ways in which the Grizzlies could earn a much needed victory Wednesday night.
Prioritizing the Perimeter: The main reason the Thunder were able to pull off their incredible comeback was due to Memphis’s inability to prevent backcourt scoring. Dennis Schroder, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Chris Paul combined to score 69 points. As amazing as Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks have been offensively at times, opposing teams also know that they can be exposed defensively. Whether through communication, effective switching, or creating turnovers, the Grizzlies must hold this trio to 55 or less points tonight to emerge victorious.
Limiting Fouls: The Thunder are currently 30th in the league in offensive rebounding percentage. The Grizzlies were able to find a clear advantage in that department ten nights ago. The Grizzlies out rebounded the Thunder 47-35, including 15-6 via the offensive glass. However, that advantage was negated by the Grizzlies committing 25 fouls to 16 for Oklahoma City. The end result was the Thunder making 27 free throws compared to 15 for the Grizzlies. For Memphis to experience success through rebounding tonight, they must also remain disciplined and not get into foul trouble.
My hope is simple; I hope this roster is pissed after being embarrassed Monday night, and is hungry to deliver a nice, cold plate of revenge tonight. Memphis knows what it needs to be successful, it simply needs to do it all four quarters. With Memphis at full strength for the first time in a while, they should be fresh. If the Grizzlies can stay disciplined, dominate the boards and take smart shots, they have a good chance of earning the victory.
Grizzlies 116 Thunder 110