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Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Game Preview

With the trade deadline finally passed, the Grizzlies head to OKC seeking a third straight victory.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

WHO: Memphis Grizzlies (22-33, 9-19 road) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (34-19, 18-7 away)

WHEN: 7:00 PM CT

WHERE: Chesapeake Energy Arena

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

INJURY REPORT:

MEMPHIS: Yuta Watanabe (Probable, Ankle Soreness) JaMychal Green (Questionable, Left Knee Soreness) (Joakim Noah, Questionable, Right Heel Soreness) Garrett Temple (Doubtful, shoulder), Dillon Brooks (Out, toe), Kyle Anderson (Questionable, shoulder), Omri Casspi (Out, knee), Chandler Parsons (Out, The Voice tryouts), Marc Gasol (Out, New Location Management)

MINNESOTA: Andre Roberson (Out, Knee) Alex Abrines (Out, Personal)

PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS:

MEMPHIS: Mike Conley, Justin Holiday, Julian Washburn, Jaren Jackson Jr., Ivan Rabb

Oklahoma City: Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Jerami Grant, Steven Adams, Terrance Ferguson

Growing up, I was a big fan of the Bill Nye: The Science Guy TV show. His experiments and teachings were fun to see.

Despite doing decent in science classes during grade school, I never had the passion to pursue a post-secondary education or career in a scientific field.

However, even without credentials, I feel I can confidently confirm one scientific truth: any attempt to mix nostalgia, incompetence and public knowledge will not end well.

Regardless of which clueless animated evil scientist you may choose, they all can be used as an illustration of the Grizzlies right now. Joe Mullinax details the specifics here and here. There has been no explosion of excitement due to a Woj bomb up to this point. Only a disaster that has blown up right in the franchise’s face.

Fortunately, beyond the developing circus of catastrophe off the court, the Grizzlies have found something positive and rare on it: a winning streak. And a big reason for that are a few mixtures that actually are working at the moment. For one, the combination of Ivan Rabb and opportunity has been an overwhelming success. Over the past week, Ivan Rabb has seen his minutes increase from 23 to 33. In those three games, Rabb has averaged 14.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, made 72% of his shots, and generated a +/- measure of +28 when on the court. Again, while this small sample size should remain in context, Rabb’s effectiveness is quite encouraging.

Another formula that has worked is Justin Holiday and comfort. For the first time since he came to Memphis, Holiday has played more than 30 minutes in three straight games. In other words, he has been utilized as a featured starter, and has gained confidence through the comfort of knowing his role. He has responded with his two highest scoring totals and arguably best games in a Grizzlies’ uniform in Memphis’s back to back wins. His shooting and style of play expands the resourcefulness of the Grizzlies’ offense, and is a good reason to keep giving him chances and starter minutes going forward.

The Grizzlies will need all the effective resources that can find as they play in Oklahoma City on Thursday night. The Thunder are one of the most balanced teams in the NBA. They are second in pace of play and fifth in points scored this season. Furthermore, they are third in defensive rating and first in opponents’ turnovers forced. Beyond having one of the most talented duos in the league in Russell Westbrook and Paul George, the Thunder have a very effective supporting cast with players such as Steven Adams, Dennis Schroder and Jerami Grant. Simply put, Oklahoma City is a team that can win in a variety of ways while also being a team that rarely beats itself.

While this certainly seems to be an uphill battle for Memphis, there are a few points of emphasis to improve their chances to win…

MAKE RUSS SHOOT JUMPERS

The Grizzlies need to make the Thunder feature Russell Westbrook.

WAIT, WHAT?

It is no secret that Russell Westbrook’s quality of play has certainly declined this year. While it may be too early to say he no longer is the player he once was, he certainly has struggled. Westbrook is averaging the lowest offensive rating and scoring output of his career. A big reason for this is Westbrook’s ineffectiveness with jumpers. Westbrook is generating his lowest FG% within 10-16 feet of the basket, third lowest FG% beyond 16 feet of the basket, and second lowest three point FG% of his career this season.

Despite those struggles, Westbrook is more effective than ever impacting the game beyond scoring. He is averaging career highs in rebounds and assists per game, while also producing the best defensive rating of his career. When Russ gets 11 or more assists, the Thunder are 14-8. However, when Westbrook shoots 6 or more threes, the Thunder are 5-9. For the Grizzlies to win, they must guard passing lanes well and pack the paint and force Russ to take contested jumpers. This lessens the efficiency of the Thunder’s offense, and limits Paul George’s Touches.

Prioritize Pace and Physicality

Currently, the Oklahoma City Thunder are 27th in the league in Free Throw Shooting and 21st in fouls committed this season. If the Grizzlies can prioritize being aggressive and physical, it works in their favor. When the Thunder commit 25 or more fouls in a game, they are 5-6.

Furthermore, if the Grizzlies can slow the pace of the game, it also works in their favor. A good combination for the Grizzlies to focus on is 85 and 60. If Memphis can limit the Thunder to 85 shots or less, while also limiting them to 60 two pointers or less, the Thunder are 6-6 in those games. If the Grizzlies can achieve those marks, it means the Thunder are having to settle for less than favorable looks from distance.

The Prediction

On February 8th, 2011, Tony Allen delivered his memorable “All heart, Grit and Grit” speech after a win in Oklahoma City, signifying the beginning of the Grit and Grind Era in Memphis.

Tuesday night, in a small sequence, Jaren Jackson Jr. provided a defining moment of his young NBA career. After missing two free throws that basically would have sealed the game, he responded by blocking two consecutive shots on the defensive end to help Memphis win.

It will take that same defensive effort and resiliency for the Grizzlies to a win tonight against the Thunder. It would be incredibly fitting, after all the franchise and their fans have been through over the past few weeks, for the Grizzlies to get the victory and for Jackson Jr. to deliver a memorable audio clip of his own.

Score: Grizzlies 103, Thunder 98

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